US Secretary of State John Kerry was considering Sunday to return to the region in the coming days in order to try and salvage peace talks, after Israel refused to release the fourth group of prisoners on Saturday, angering the Palestinians.
As part of the negotiations between the two sides, Israel committed to release 104 Palestinian prisoners who were jailed prior to the Oslo Accords in 1993. The fourth batch of prisoners includes 26 prisoners, most of whom were convicted of severe crimes; however, Israel has long warned that the release in question will not be executed if the Palestinians refuse to extend the talks past the original deadline date of April 29.
Various Israeli media reported Saturday and Sunday that Israel has offered to release more prisoners - beyond the fourth group - to keep the Palestinians at the negotiating table. The unconfirmed reports said Israel would release somewhere between 400-1,000 additional prisoners, subject to Jerusalem's pick.
A PA official has confirmed to Palestinian news agency Ma'an that there were discussions on releasing more prisoners, but refused to elaborate.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, however, has stressed on Sunday that "there will be no deal without clear reciprocity to Israel," predicting the fate of the peace talks will be determined in a matter of days, "either it resolves or implodes."
If such an agreement is reached, he said, it will be brought before the cabinet for approval.
Israeli ministers from the right were quick to respond to the reports more prisoners could be freed.
"There is no country in the world that's willing to release dozens and hundreds of murderers for negotiations. There is no such thing, and there won't be such a thing here either," Housing Minister Uri Ariel (Bayit Yehudi) said.
Abbas "is not operating as someone who wants peace and negotiations for peace," Strategic Affairs Minister Yuval Steinitz said. "His refusal to recognize the Jewish people's right to a country of its own is a refusal to recognize the 1947 UN Resolution 194."
"We committed to a fourth group but it is obvious you don't release more prisoners if Abbas announces the next day he's blowing up the negotiations," Steinitz continued.
Economy Minister Naftali Bennett (Bayit Yehudi) said Sunday that he will demand that the cabinet reviews the release of the fourth group of prisoners, in light of Palestinian threats to abandon peace talks after the release is complete.
Meanwhile, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas will hold a meeting with the Palestinian leadership on Monday to discuss further steps if Israel doesn't release the fourth group of prisoners, the undersecretary of PA’s Prisoners Affairs Ministry told Ma'an on Sunday.
Palestinian sources quoted by the newspaper A-Sharq Al-Awsat said that the Israeli refusal to execute the fourth release of Palestinian security prisoners will not lead to any immediate steps by the Palestinian Authority.
The sources clarified that the PA prefers awaiting the results of US efforts to convince Israel to hold its commitment, and added that "the leadership does not want to enter immediate conflict and appear responsible for the breakdown of the negotiation process."
During the weekend, Palestinian Minister of Prisoner Affairs Issa Qaraqae said that "efforts are underway to solve the crisis. There is still a possibility that the prisoners will be released, maybe in the upcoming days."
However, the undersecretary of the PA's Prisoners Affairs Ministry said the release of the fourth group of prisoners will not happen in the next two days, as the Israeli government must make the list of names public 48 hours before the release.