Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu demanded “clear reciprocity” from Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas this week, as US-officials squirmed over Israel’s delay in releasing the last batch of Palestinian prisoners.
The remaining 26 prisoners, from a total of 104 assigned for release at the start of the peace talks last summer, were due to be released on Saturday night.
However Israeli officials held back, following reports that Palestinian Authority President Abbas has threatened to “embark on diplomatic warfare against Israel” immediately afterwards.
“We agreed to the fourth batch,” said Israeli Intelligence Minister Yuval Steinitz, but not as long as Abbas was preparing to “blow up the negotiations” the very next day.
Speaking to his cabinet colleagues on Sunday, Netanyahu sounded bullish when discussing reports of a further release of prisoners, including some 400 Israeli Arabs whose crimes pre-date the 1993 Oslo Accords.
“No way will there be a deal with the Palestinians to release prisoners without clear reciprocity to Israel. And if there will be a deal, it will come to the cabinet for its approval,” he said.
Referring to a pending deadline and an Israeli proposal to extend the talks beyond the end of April, Netanyahu said the fate of the process could be revealed within days, adding: “Either the matter will be resolved or it will blow up.”
US Middle East envoy Martin Indyk has been working intensively over the last few days trying to come up with a formula that would allow the talks to continue past the nine-month deadline that expires in less than a month.