The Israeli government has agreed to quietly halt building in Jewish West Bank settlements, but wouldn't make any public announcement to that effect, a senior Palestinian official told The Wall Street Journal on Saturday.
The Palestinian official said that on Friday Kerry relayed to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas a commitment made by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to release several Palestinian prisoners even before the first day of peace talks, scheduled to take place in Washington next week.
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The official also said that Kerry told Abbas Israel has agreed to a "quiet freeze" of settlement construction, yet will not announce the move officially and publicly. He told WSJ that Kerry gave Abbas his "own guarantee" that peace talks will resume on the basis of the 1967 lines.
According to the report, Kerry told the Palestinian leader that he brought fresh pledges secured from Netanyahu during a two-hour phone call with the Israeli leader on Friday.
Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon said Saturday evening, "We insisted on entering negotiations without preconditions, which included Palestinian demands for a declaration on the 1967 lines, a construction freeze and release of prisoners.
Kerry announces resumption of talks (Video: Reuters)
Nearly three years after the previous round of negotiations collapsed, Kerry told a press conference in Amman, Jordan on Friday that direct peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians would be renewed.
Minister Tzipi Livni, Israel's chief negotiator is expected to meet with Palestinian representative Saeb Erekat in Washington as early as next week. Attorney Yitzhak Molcho, Netanyahu's special envoy, will also be representing Israel at the meeting. The goal is to set a timetable for negotiations.
"We have reached an agreement that establishes the basis for resuming direct final status negotiations between the Palestinians and the Israelis," Kerry said in Amman after a day in which he shuttled between the Jordanian capital and the West Bank.
"This is a significant and welcome step forward… The best way to give these negotiations a chance is to keep them private," he said. "We know that the challenges require some very tough choices in the days ahead. Today, however, I am hopeful."
Minister Yuval Steinitz admitted Saturday that Israel has agreed to release Palestinian prisoners during the course of the negotiations.
Speaking at an event in Ramat Gan, Steinitz said that in line with Israeli demands, negotiations will resume without pre-conditions such as settlement construction freeze, talks based on 1967 borders and immediate release of prisoners.
Defense officials said that the decision to release prisoners, including "hardcore prisoners," was coordinated with the defense establishment and Defense Minister Ya'alon.
Deputy Defense Minister Danny Danon, a member of the ruling Likud party, said Saturday "I trust the prime minister that he knows we cannot discuss a return to the 1967 borders. We must not repeat the injustice of the (Gaza) Disengagement and uproot thousands of Jews from their home."
Addressing reports that Israel will release terrorists during the course of the negotiations, Danon said: "We must learn from past mistakes and not release terrorists with blood on their hands as a gesture or reward."
Fellow Likud member MK Miri Regev said: "In light of the various statements regarding an agreement about the 1967 borders, as well as agreements on releasing Palestinian prisoners, the prime minister should clarify the truth."
"I expect to hear what the Palestinian leadership is doing for a peace agreement, because in my opinion they have no real intention to reach one," she said Saturday. According to her, Kerry's "cleverness" will increase the dangers to Israel's security.
Moran Azulay contributed to this report.
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