Israel released 477 prisoners this week and is expected to release 550 more as part of the second stage of the Shalit deal, but Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas is upping the ante, demanding to free a larger number of prisoners, as he claims was promised to him secretly by former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.
In an interview with Time Magazine, the Palestinian president said he expects Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to keep his predecessor's promise.
- 'Shalit deal detrimental to peace'
According to Abbas, the issue first came up after Olmert arranged the release of Palestinian prisoners on two separate occasions as a good will gesture to promote peace talks. Olmert promised to oblige, but said it will only happen after Gilad Shalit is returned to Israel.
"He said now I cannot because we have a Shalit deal, but I promise you when we conclude Shalit and everything is okay, I will give you, not the same number, not the same quality, more. I think that he repeated it twice in different meetings," Abbas told Time Magazine.
Celebrations in Ramallah after prisoners' release (Photo: AFP)
"But," he noted, "(Olmert) asked me, please keep it secret, confidential between us, because we don't want to affect the deal with Shalit. I said, okay, okay, I will keep it. Now the deal is over, and we will ask them to fulfill their promises."
Abbas told the magazine that he had discussed the Israeli proposal with the Obama administration earlier this week, adding that "The American envoy David Hall, and the counsel general, Daniel Rubinstein, came six or seven months (ago) telling me that President Obama is willing to give you a confidence building measures to be fulfilled by Netanyahu.
'Asked to keep it a secret.' Olmert and Abbas (Photo: Reuters)
"I said what kind of confidence building measures? They said to help Gaza, to alleviate the siege around Gaza, to remove some of the roadblocks, to help you in the C area and to release prisoners," Abbas said.
However, the Palestinian president said he refused the offer. "What was my answer? No. Why? Because I knew the Israelis will put it on the table and start to negotiate it instead of the final status issues.
"But after that they returned back two or three times saying, please this is our offer. You have to appreciate it, you have to accept, because you don't' have to do anything. It is free of charge. It will not cost you anything. After the third time I said okay, let us start. Of course they didn't start, nothing happened."
Asked whether he thinks Netanyahu would agree to follow through with Olmert's secret promise, Abbas said: "Of course I doubt that Netanyahu will do it, but I will send to him a message within two or three days, to ask him whether he will accept or not.
"I'm not going to argue with him or not negotiate with him or to talk in details about it. Either, or. If he doesn't believe us, he can ask Mr. Olmert. He can turn back to the minutes, protocols — everything is in writing. Of course he didn't give us it in writing, but of course his colleagues write everything," he said.
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