Palestinian officials are fuming that a new deal to salvage peace talk will not include the release of jailed Palestinian leaders Marwan Barghouti and Ahmad Saadat, despite the fact the release of US-Israeli spy Jonathan Pollard is.
According to a report by Ma'an, the Palestinian leadership asked to secure the release of the two men together with a former Yasser Arafat aide as part of the proposal, but Israel refused.
According to the details of the new proposal, published Tuesday by Ma'an, Israel will expand the currently on-hold release of Palestinian prisoners from 26 to several hundred, including senior Palestinian officials jailed in Israel.
Ma'an also said that Israel would agree to a "quiet freeze" in settlement construction in the West Bank, although not in Jerusalem, which would hold until the end of this year.
The Ramallah leadership was to meet again on Tuesday evening to discuss Israel's position on freeing the prisoners, a senior official told Voice of Palestine radio, but slammed the connection to Pollard.
"We completely reject any link between Pollard and the release of our prisoners or with the extension of negotiations. As for extending these talks, we must be clear that the release of prisoners is completely unlinked to the negotiations," Palestinian spokesperson Jami Shehada said.
- Israeli source: Pollard to go free in return for hundreds of Palestinians
- Abbas asks US help to free jailed Palestinian leader Barghouti
- Court: PFLP leader Saadat to remain in solitary confinement
According to Maan, Israel rejected Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas' request that it free Fatah official Marwan Barghouti, Secretary-General of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine Ahmad Sa'adat and Yasser Arafat's former aide Fuad Al-Shubkhi.
The report claimed that Palestinian negotiators who met with US Secretary of State John Kerry Tuesday night, including Saeb Erekat, expressed their anger at reports Pollard would go free as part of the deal, and said they would agree to extend the talks only if Israel frees another 1,000 prisoners, including political heavyweights as well as female and ill prisoners.
On Tuesday it was announced that Kerry will return to the Middle East on Wednesday to continue his push to salvage Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.
The State Department said Kerry will visit Israel and the Palestinian territories, meeting with Abbas in Ramallah.
Kerry already met with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu this week in Jerusalem. After seeing Abbas, he will travel to Algeria and Morocco.
Separate sources close to the negotiating teams confirmed that Washington is considering a proposal to release Pollard as a way to break the deadlock.
Pollard was arrested in Washington in 1985 and sentenced to life imprisonment for spying on the United States on behalf of Israel.
“The emerging deal ... contains the following elements: the release of Jonathan Pollard before the Passover holiday (in mid April) and the extension of the negotiations with the Palestinians into 2015," one of the sources told AFP.
He said the fourth batch of prisoners would be freed – "including Israeli Arabs" – and Israel would also agree to free another 400 security prisoners not involved in deadly anti-Israeli attacks.
The release of Palestinian citizens of Israel jailed for nationalist attacks has been bitterly opposed by many within Netanyahu's ruling right-wing coalition.
The proposal would include a limited freeze on settlement construction, with Israel adopting "a policy of restraint with (West Bank) government tenders" but would not include annexed East Jerusalem.
There was no immediate comment from the Americans. State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki had on Monday refused to be drawn on the issue.
US officials insist things are moving, saying only that there are a lot of complex pieces to put in place.
The Palestinians on Monday gave Kerry a 24-hour deadline to come up with a solution to the prisoner row, warning that a failure to do so would see them turning to UN bodies to press their claims for statehood.
A Palestinian source said there had been no new developments from Kerry's meeting with chief negotiator Saeb Erakat on Monday.
"The meeting did not produce any results because of Israel's insistence on a Palestinian agreement to extend negotiations until the end of the year in exchange for the fourth contingent of prisoners," he said.
Roi Kais, the Associated Press, AFP and Reuters contributed to this report