By HERB KEINON, JPOST—
US Secretary of State John Kerry met in Jerusalem Monday evening with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, amid reports the US may release Israeli spy Jonathan Pollard by mid-April as part of a wider package designed to resuscitate the negotiations.
Reuters, citing sources close to the negotiations, said that under the plan Israel would go ahead with the release of the fourth group of Palestinian security prisoners it agreed to release under the framework that led to a renewal of talks last July.
In addition, the sources were quoted as saying that Israel would agree to release another larger group of prisoners, and the peace talks would be extended past the April 29 deadline.
Israeli officials would not discuss any details of what was under discussion. In Washington, White House spokesman Jay Carney said he had no update on Pollard. Nevertheless, there is a sense among some dealing with the issue that this time the reports of a deal that would include Pollard are more serious than in the past.
Kerry interrupted his scheduled travels in Europe for the second time in a week to rush to the region and salvage talks in a crisis since Israel missed the March 29 deadline set to release the final batch of prisoners.
Kerry was scheduled to travel to Ramallah late Monday night following his meeting with Netanyahu to meet with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. It was not immediately clear whether there would be follow up talks on Tuesday. Kerry was originally scheduled to attend a NATO ministerial meeting in Brussels on Tuesday and Wednesday.
Prior to the meeting in Ramallah, Abbas chaired a meeting of top PLO and Fatah officials to discuss the developments surrounding the peace talks and the crisis over the prisoners.
State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said the US negotiating team has been on the ground to “help the sides agree to a path forward.” US Middle East envoy Martin Indyk and his team have held intensive talks with both sides over the last week trying to figure out a way out of the current stalemate.
Highly placed Israeli officials familiar with the negotiations said that Israel will release the final batch of 26 prisoners if it knows that the talks will move forward. He said that the talks were focused on seeing whether it is possible to reach an understanding that would make possible the continuation of talks.
The source emphasized, however, that this “understanding” was not the US framework document that was discussed in the past that would serve as a basis for continued talks. The sides could not agree on that document.
Kerry, according to the source, is working on a way to keep the parties engaged beyond next month’s deadline.
The source said that if it became clear that the process was ending, and that the Palestinians would go to international forums and wage diplomatic war against Israel once the final batch of prisoners was released, then there would be no reason to go ahead with that release.
PA officials said that Kerry was trying to persuade Abbas to agree to an extension of the talks. One official said he did not rule out the possibility that Abbas would agree to the extension of the talks, but without linking it to the release of the prisoners.
“The prisoners should have been released a few days ago in accordance with understandings reached with Israel and the Palestinian Authority before the resumption of the peace talks several months ago,” the official said. “Any attempt to create a linkage between the release of the prisoners and the extension of the talks is an act of blackmail.”
Even if Kerry does get the Palestinians to agree to continue the talks, and as a result Israel does release a final batch of Palestinians convicted of terrorist acts prior to the 1993 Oslo accords, it remains unclear whether Israel would include Israeli Arabs in that list.
Although the Palestinians claim that Kerry led them to believe that 14 Israeli Arabs would be included, Israel – even according to senior US officials – made no commitment last July to include Israeli Arabs in the prisoner releases. This, according to some speculation, is where Pollard might come into play, with the US releasing him in exchange for Israel agreeing to release Israeli Arabs.
Any decision to release Israeli Arabs needs to go back to the cabinet for approval. The release of Pollard would make such approval likely, whereas without his release Netanyahu does not have a majority in the government for such a move.
Khaled Abu Toameh and Reuters contributed to this report.
This moron is flying all over the world on my tax dollars,
PLEASE!!! stop this useless waste of time.
Try reading God’s word, maybe you’ll figure it out.
Kerry needs to go somewhere else and stop “helping” (really blackmail) Isreal. That Nation is under God’s protection and guidance as long as Isreal obeys His directives and prays for His wisdom.
Pray for the Peace of Jerusalem!! All “true Christians”, stand with Israel with prayers and
contact our government officials letting them know how we feel about Obama and Kerry’s blackmail tactics and their real motives behind the actions that are really AGAINST Israel.
Some ask ‘why should Israel be skeptical?’, well try this on for size. During the Wye River talks then Pres. Clinton also promised to release Jonathan Pollard to sweeten the pot. He then reneged on his word. Now Pres. Obama & Mr. Kerry are once more holding this very ill prisoner of 30 years out as bait to get Israel to release more Murderers of civilians who are then treated as heroes by the PA. We may ask where will it end and rightly so but any who have read The Book know that this so called conflict will only end with the return of the Messiah. I must say I agree with Carolyn Glick that Israel should just annex Judea and Samaria (aka ‘the west bank’) and put an end to this preposterous nonsense. The PA does not want peace. They want to erase Israel from the map as their mantra says “from the river (Jordan) to the sea, Palestine will soon be free”. They simply want to wipe out Israel. God help us if we are a party to this betrayal.