Israel delays release of Palestinian prisoners

Fatah leader under pressure to extend peace talks deadline

Jerusalem

The Middle East peace process appeared to be slipping into an even more critical condition, after Israel delayed its fourth and final tranche of agreed prisoner releases that have been long-awaited by the Palestinians. 

Just hours after a crucial meeting between US Secretary of State John Kerry and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas raised hopes that all was not yet lost, Israel announced that the release, which was supposed to take place tomorrow, would be postponed.

“There will be no release on Saturday,” Israeli Prison Authority spokeswoman Sivan Weizman said. Asked when it would take place, officials reiterated Israel’s demand that the Palestinians first pledge themselves to extending the deadline for agreeing on peace talks, which is due to expire at the end of April.

In advance of the preliminary negotiations, Israel last summer committed itself to freeing 104 long-serving prisoners. It has so far freed 78 in three previous batches.

The Palestinians, meanwhile are setting their own conditions for extending the troubled negotiations, and for agreeing to refrain from taking their grievances against continued occupation to the UN. These terms are, according to a Palestinian official, a freeze on Israeli settlement building in the West Bank and a release from Israeli prison of a group of prisoners including Marwan Barghouti, the popular leader of the second intifada uprising who is serving life sentences after being convicted of the murder of Israelis and a Greek Orthodox monk.

“The peace talks are not popular,” explained Abdullah Abdullah, deputy commissioner on foreign relations for Mr Abbas’s Fatah movement. “People have seen more land being grabbed by the Israelis and more houses demolished. We need a settlement freeze and the releases in order to justify continuing the talks to our people, who are not happy with what’s going on.”

Israel has rejected a settlement freeze and has in the past ruled out releasing Barghouthi. To extend the deal, Mr Abdullah said the Palestinians are also seeking freedom for other prisoners, including 22 women, minors, and 77 “terminally sick” prisoners.

“The Palestinians have no intention of continuing the negotiations to reach an agreement, and are looking for reasons to explode the negotiations,” Israeli legislator David Rotem, from the far-right Yisrael Beiteinu coalition partner, said of the demands to release Barghouthi and to freeze settlement building. “Unless they agree to continue the negotiations without conditions, there should be no prisoner release. These are people who were sentenced in trials.”

Despite the negative omens, a leading independent West Bank politician predicted yesterday that Mr Abbas will agree to extend the talks.

“I think he’ll remain in the negotiations to prevent financial sanctions from Europe, America and Israel and to prevent political isolation,” said Hassan Khreisheh, deputy speaker of the Palestinian Legislative Council. However, he added that he believed Mr Abbas would be unwise to continue the negotiations: “He should stop because he has no power; the Palestinian internal situation is bad with the division between Hamas and Fatah; Arab neighbours are unstable and care only about their own countries and Israeli aggression against Palestinians is escalating daily.”

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
ebooksNow available in paperback
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Office / Sales Manager

£22000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Established and expanding South...

Recruitment Genius: Administrative Assistant / Order Fulfilment

£14000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An exciting opportunity to join a thrivi...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped OTE: SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consulta...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped OTE: SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consulta...

Day In a Page

Refugee crisis: David Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia - will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi?

Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia...

But will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi, asks Robert Fisk
Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Humanity must be at the heart of politics, says Jeremy Corbyn
Joe Biden's 'tease tour': Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?

Joe Biden's 'tease tour'

Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?
Britain's 24-hour culture: With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever

Britain's 24-hour culture

With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever
Diplomacy board game: Treachery is the way to win - which makes it just like the real thing

The addictive nature of Diplomacy

Bullying, betrayal, aggression – it may be just a board game, but the family that plays Diplomacy may never look at each other in the same way again
Lady Chatterley's Lover: Racy underwear for fans of DH Lawrence's equally racy tome

Fashion: Ooh, Lady Chatterley!

Take inspiration from DH Lawrence's racy tome with equally racy underwear
8 best children's clocks

Tick-tock: 8 best children's clocks

Whether you’re teaching them to tell the time or putting the finishing touches to a nursery, there’s a ticker for that
Charlie Austin: Queens Park Rangers striker says ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

Charlie Austin: ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

After hitting 18 goals in the Premier League last season, the QPR striker was the great non-deal of transfer deadline day. But he says he'd preferred another shot at promotion
Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

The Arab Spring reversed

Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

Who is Oliver Bonas?

It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

60 years of Scalextric

Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones