US brokers deal on fresh talks for Middle-East peace as Israel promises release of Palestinian 'political prisoners'

Prisoner releases by Israel and Palestinian soft-pedalling at the UN among concessions intended to lead to direct negotiations

Jerusalem

Details of the latest Middle East peace plan began to emerge today, hours after John Kerry announced that he had brokered an agreement that is likely to lead to fresh talks between the Israelis and Palestinians.

The most significant concession appears to be a promise by Israel to release a number of high-ranking Palestinian prisoners, many of whom have been behind bars for decades.  Jail releases have been a long-standing demand of the Palestinian leadership, which regards the individuals as ‘political prisoners’.  The Israeli government disputes that view.

“There will be some release of prisoners,” Yuval Steinitz, Israel’s hawkish strategic affairs minister, told Israel Radio. “I don’t want to give numbers but there will be heavyweight prisoners who have been in jail for tens of years.” It is understood that the prisoners will be released in stages.

Mr Steinitz’s comments came less than 24 hours after Mr Kerry said that the two sides had agreed to restart negotiations for the first time since 2010. While the deal was hailed in some quarters as a resumption of direct talks, it appears to fall some way short of that.

Speaking in the Jordanian capital, Amman, on Friday evening, Mr Kerry said that the two sides had “reached an agreement that establishes a basis for direct final-status negotiations”, but he added that a deal is “still in the process of being formalised”. Mr Kerry has spent four months trying to get the two sides back around the table.

The veteran Palestinian chief negotiator Saeb Erekat and Israel’s interior minister, Tzipi Livni, who is responsible for negotiations with the Palestinians, are due in Washington this week, although it could be a number of weeks before face-to-face talks begin.

Mr Kerry stressed the need to keep details of the deal secret but, in the crucible of Middle Eastern politics, elements of what has been agreed emerged almost as he finished unveiling the new initiative. It is believed that the Palestinian leadership will now put on hold a plan to ask to ratify a number of United Nations treaties and will not pursue Israel through the International Criminal Court in The Hague.

But any rapprochement between the two sides remains fragile and riddled with suspicion.

The most difficult aspect of the Kerry plan for both parties may be internal opposition, however. Gaza continues to be governed by the militant Hamas faction, which refuses even to recognise Israel’s existence, while some members of the more moderate Fatah, which dominates the governing Palestinian Liberation Organisation, refuse to recognise Israel as a Jewish state.

There is also deep-rooted opposition on the Israeli side. The country’s trade minister, Naftali Bennett, has threatened to withdraw from Benjamin Netanyahu’s ruling coalition, while any future land concessions are likely to enrage settler groups and the three settlers in the Israeli cabinet.

There was international praise for the two sides and Mr Kerry yesterday. A spokesperson for Tony Blair’s Office of the Quartet Representative, which works to boost economic development in the Palestinian territories, said: “We welcome the announcement of the resumption of talks. We look forward to working with all the parties to ensure the full potential of two viable states is realised.”

William Hague, the Foreign Secretary, said: “I pay tribute to the efforts of Secretary Kerry and his team and I commend the leadership shown by both Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Abbas.”

* This story has been amended to make clear that the view of the prisoners as ‘political’ is disputed.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
Britain's opposition Labour Party leader Ed Miliband (R) and Boris Johnson, mayor of London, talk on the Andrew Marr show in London April 26
General electionAndrew Marr forced to intervene as Boris and Miliband clash on TV
News
peoplePair enliven the Emirates bore-draw
Arts and Entertainment
tvPoldark episode 8, review
News
United States President Barack Obama, right, uses actor Keegan-Michael Key from Key & Peele to play the part of 'Luther, President Obama's anger translator'
video
News
ebooksNow available in paperback
  • Get to the point
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Senior Accounts Assistant - Accounts Payable - St. Albans

£26000 - £28000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: Senior Accounts Assistan...

Ashdown Group: Treasury Assistant - Accounts Assistant - London, Old Street

£24000 - £26000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: A highly successful, glo...

Recruitment Genius: Installation and Service / Security Engineer

£22000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company is part of a Group...

Recruitment Genius: Service Charge Accounts Assistant

£16000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you a a young, dynamic pers...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence
Public relations as 'art'? Surely not

Confessions of a former PR man

The 'art' of public relations is being celebrated by the V&A museum, triggering some happy memories for DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef succumbs to his sugar cravings with super-luxurious sweet treats

Bill Granger's luxurious sweet treats

Our chef loves to stop for 30 minutes to catch up on the day's gossip, while nibbling on something sweet
London Marathon 2015: Paula Radcliffe and the mother of all goodbyes

The mother of all goodbyes

Paula Radcliffe's farewell to the London Marathon will be a family affair
Everton vs Manchester United: Steven Naismith demands 'better' if Toffees are to upset the odds against United

Steven Naismith: 'We know we must do better'

The Everton forward explains the reasons behind club's decline this season
Arsenal vs Chelsea: Praise to Arsene Wenger for having the courage of his convictions

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Praise to Wenger for having the courage of his convictions