U.S. Special Envoy to the Middle East Martin Indyk is on his way back to the region today (Thursday) to officially revive the talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.
State Department spokesperson Marty Harf told reporters at a briefing that both sides have told Secretary of State John Kerry they want to continue negotiations beyond the current April 29 deadline.
Neither side was willing to meet after the terrorist attack in Judea on Monday that killed senior police officer Baruch Mizrahi, a father of five, and wounded his wife and 9-year-old son. The attacker or attackers were standing on the side of the road on Highway 35 near Hevron, shooting at vehicles with Israeli license plates, a witness said. One arrest has allegedly been made but no details were released. Mizrahi was on his way with his family to a seder in Kiryat Arba to celebrate the Passover holiday when he was murdered.
Talks that were scheduled for Wednesday night were cancelled. Both sides were unwilling to negotiate in the face of another Arab terror attack on Jews using an AK-47 – a weapon supplied to PA police by the U.S. military, among others – ostensibly to strengthen its forces so they could ‘fight terror.’
On Thursday, those talks are set to resume with Indyk, Israel’s Justice Minister and chief negotiator Tzipi Livni and negotiator Yitzhak Molcho, and the PA’s chief negotiator Saeb Erekat.
PA spokesperson Nabil Abu Rudaineh told a media briefing in Ramallah that an agreement is already in place to extend the talks.
“The Palestinian commitment is clear to the Israelis and the Americans, and this commitment is that the talks will continue until April 29, and that Israel should release the fourth group of prisoners,” Rudaineh told reporters. “This is the basic Palestinian demand. This is not a Palestinian condition, but it is a Palestinian demand, which was agreed upon with the U.S. secretary of state according to which 104 pre-Oslo prisoners would be released, and in return we would not go to the United Nations organizations for nine months… Now the talks with the Israelis and the Americans are continuing to the end of this month to discuss the basis that could lead to an extension of the negotiations,” he said.
Various proposals are being advanced by Israel in order to wrestle with the issue of the Israeli Arab prisoners among the fourth and final group that was held back due to lack of progress in the talks.
The Bayit Yehudi (Jewish Home) party has threatened to leave the government if those prisoners – Israeli citizens who are all Arab terrorists – are freed.
One option would be to revoke their citizenship and deport them. Another would be to simply send the entire group to Gaza or abroad. In either case, resistance from the PA is expected – as usual.