Israel Frees Prisoners, Peace Talks to Start

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has announced that both the Israelis and Palestinians will hold direct peace talks in Washington after the Cabinet in Israel approved the release of more than 100 Palestinian prisoners.

It is expected that Tzipi Livni, the Justice Minister in Israel will start preliminary talks with Saeb Erekat, the chief negotiator for the Palestinians as soon as Monday night, said Israeli and U.S. officials.

A spokesperson for Mahmoud Abbas, the President of the Palestinian Authority confirmed he had accepted the invitation of Kerry to send his chief negotiator to take part in what the U.S. State Department has described as only a preliminary meeting in order to establish a work plan for the negotiations that will take place in the coming months.

Officials from the Palestinian Authority said that some issues were still outstanding and had to be clarified prior to full negotiations taking place.

Showing how important the fragility is between the two, a dispute took place on Sunday over which prisoners were slated to be released.

Israelis insisted the list would not include Arab Israeli prisoners but the Palestinians demanded that close to 12 Arab Israelis be part of the 104 that were to be released.

Nevertheless, the Palestinians did say the concession made by Israel would make it possible for them to join the peace process led by the U.S.

Erekat said he welcomed the decision by the government of Israel and now was the time to focus on the chance the U.S. has provided to make sure every effort possible is put forth to reach the goal of the creation of two states.

Kerry, who has made re-starting the direct talks between the Israelis and Palestinians one of his most important priorities, thanked Benjamin Netanyahu the Israeli Prime Minister and Palestinian President Abbas for agreeing to hold the talks.

Netanyahu’s work was difficult to convince his right-wing coalition to approve the release of prisoners, which the Palestinians had demanded if any peace talks were to resume.

On Sunday, the vote in Israeli was delayed for hours as Netanyahu pressured reluctant members of his Cabinet to support the release, which set dozens of prisoners free that had been convicted in the ‘80s and ‘90s by Israel of carrying out terrorist attacks against them.

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