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
ebooksNow available in paperback
Sport
Louis van Gaal
football
Voices
An easy-peel potato; Dave Hax has come up with an ingenious method in food preparation
voicesDave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Jay Z has placed a bet on streaming being the future for music and videos
music
Arts and Entertainment
Festival-goers soak up the atmosphere at Glastonbury
music
  • 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

Recruitment Genius: Project Implementation Executive

£18000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Chiropractic Assistant

£16500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Chiropractic Assistant is needed in a ...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Account Executive - Midlands

£18000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Web Developer

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company provides coaching ...

Day In a Page

NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

The wars that come back to haunt us

David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

Let the propaganda wars begin - again

'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

Japan's incredible long-distance runners

Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

Tom Drury: The quiet American

His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace
You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

Dave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
Beige is back: The drab car colours of the 1970s are proving popular again

Beige to the future

Flares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's dishes highlight the delicate essence of fresh cheeses

Bill Granger cooks with fresh cheeses

More delicate on the palate, milder, fresh cheeses can also be kinder to the waistline
Aston Villa vs Liverpool: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful,' says veteran Shay Given

Shay Given: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful'

The Villa keeper has been overlooked for a long time and has unhappy memories of the national stadium – but he is savouring his chance to play at Wembley
Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own - Michael Calvin

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own