A senior Palestinian Authority official in the occupied West Bank has reported that direct peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians, slated to start next Tuesday in Washington, cannot be held before Israel agrees to the release of all detainees held since before the first Oslo agreement of 1993.Talking on condition of anonymity, the official said that “the detainees, including those from historic Palestine and Jerusalem, must be released before talks can resume”.
The official further stated that Palestinian President, Mahmoud Abbas, has repeatedly made it clear to Israel and the United States that the detainees must be freed, and must be sent back home regardless of where they live.
Meanwhile, Israeli daily, Haaretz, has reported that Chief Palestinian Negotiator, Dr. Saeb Erekat, received an official invitation from the United States to start talks with Israeli Justice Minister, Tzipi Livni.
Erekat said that the United States clarified that the talks are based on the Israeli withdrawal from territories it occupied in 1967.
In addition, an unidentified official stated that “talks cannot resume before Israel commits itself to the release of all long term detainees, adding that “no Israeli commitment means Erekat will not be heading to Washington”.
Various Palestinian officials in the West Bank stated that any partial release of old detainee would be met by public outrage, and will be viewed as forfeiting the standards and principles set by President Mahmoud Abbas and the Palestinian leadership.
An official told Haaretz that Netanyahu never made a clear statement regarding peace talks based on the Israeli withdrawal from the occupied territories, never agreed to the release of the detainees, and never agreed to freeze all settlement activities.
“Therefore, we cannot be talking about resuming direct talks”. He said, “We need guarantees and real commitments”.
On its part, Israeli daily, Yedioth Aharonoth, quoted a Palestinian official stating that an agreement has been reached to release 103 detainees, imprisoned by Israeli before the Oslo Agreement, and that the Palestinian side is waiting for an Israel government session that will be held Sunday to vote on the issue.
“Should Israel refrain from releasing the 103 detainees, including 24 from Jerusalem and the 1948 territories, the P.A will face massive public outrage should it engage in direct talks with Tel Aviv”, the official added.
The same official said that talks will likely start, and that he believes Israel will release the 103 detainees on four phases starting on the first month of talks and ending on the sixth month.
Yedioth Aharonoth said that Israeli Member of Knesset, Sylvan Shalom, of the Likud Party of Benjamin Netanyahu, did not void the possibility of releasing Palestinian detainees before the Fitir Muslim feast that marks the end of the current holy Muslim month of Ramadan.
The decision to resume direct peace talks was declared by U.S. Secretary of State, John Kerry, who recently toured the region and held extensive talks with Palestinian, Israeli and Arab officials. He said that direct final status peace talks would start next week in Washington.
Direct talks have been obstructed since September of 2009 when a temporary settlement freeze expired and Israel started massive constructions.