Release Of Palestinian Prisoners Canceled By Israel, Jeopardizing Talks

Despite Secretary of State John Kerry’s best efforts to keep the process alive, the peace talks between Israel and Palestine are under threat of cancelation. Israeli and Palestinian leaders received a pointed warning from Secretary of State John Kerry, who said that they must “lead” if they want to preserve the chances for a historic Middle East peace agreement. Both sides are accusing the other of bad faith and are placing impediments in the way of a resolution.

The talks are currently at an impasse and Israel has announced that an already delayed release of Palestinian prisoners would be canceled and that additional sanctions against the Palestinians may be levied in the future. The announcement from Israel comes shortly after the Palestinian leadership formally applied for membership in 15 international conventions and treaties. Israel considers the action to be an unacceptable violation of the American-brokered terms for the talks

Palestinians counter that the action was only taken after the Israelis failed to meet the deadline for releasing the prisoners. In return for the release by Israel of 104 long-serving Palestinian prisoners in four groups, President Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority had pledged not to seek membership in international bodies for the nine months allotted for the negotiations. Even though the last of the prisoners were to be released in late March, Israel sought to condition the release of the final batch on an extension of the negotiations beyond the current deadline of April 29.

Mr. Kerry publicly appealed to the leaders to “lead,” worried that the process was in danger of collapsing. The Palestinians are blaming Israel for precipitating the current crisis and Israel is accusing the Palestinians of having foreclosed the planned release with their move. According to accounts by people involved in the negotiations, Tzipi Livni, the Israeli government’s chief negotiator, told her Palestinian counterparts that the Palestinians had acted even though they knew the Israeli government was making a genuine, coordinated effort to arrange the prisoners’ release.

Ms. Livni called on the Palestinians to withdraw their applications arguing that unilateral steps would not advance the Palestinians’ cause or the negotiations. A Palestinian official close to the negotiations said, “For the first time the Palestinians have something to use against Israel if it does not abide by agreements, and we made use of it. We will not withdraw the applications. They stand.”

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