JERUSALEM – On the eve of Passover, the Festival of Freedom, Jonathan Pollard remains in an American prison, as Israel’s release of Palestinian prisoners and U.S.-brokered peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority is on hold until at least after the Passover holiday.
One high-ranking Israeli official, knowledgeable about the negotiations between U.S. peace envoy Martin Indyk, Israel’s lead negotiator, Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, and her Palestinian counterpart, Saeb Erekat, told Channel 10 News, “there was no chance that negotiations will be restarted in the coming weeks.” The official predicted that Secretary of State John Kerry’s April 29 deadline to resolve outstanding issues and move forward on creating a framework to continue talks would not be met. Erekat acknowledged to several Arab media outlets that “the gaps remain very wide” between Israel and the PA.
Several senior Israeli government officials were angered by Kerry’s recent statements at a congressional hearing blaming Israel for the temporary halt of negotiations due to its failure to release Palestinian and Israeli Arab prisoners and for beginning the process of building new apartment complexes in a Jerusalem neighborhood known by the parties to likely be part of Israel in any final peace agreement.
Another Israeli government official told Channel 2 News that Kerry never received permission from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu or Livni to include Israeli Arab prisoners in the final phase of the prisoner exchange. Kerry reportedly admitted that he had “made a mistake.” But when PA President Mahmoud Abbas unilaterally signed numerous United Nations treaties after having pledged to not do so, Netanyahu suspended the talks and counteracted Abbas’s moves.
Netanyahu has asked the Israeli tax authorities to withhold part of the import taxes that are funneled to the PA on foreign goods delivered to Israeli ports and transferred overland to the PA. He has also demanded payment owed by the PA to the Israel Electric Corporation (IEC) to ease the IEC’s heavy debt. Those debts have forced Israeli consumers to pay ever-higher electricity rates.
During the break in talks, Netanyahu is expected to work toward shoring up his governing coalition. At least three party leaders have threatened to bolt the coalition while a fourth openly admitted he “wouldn’t mind if new elections were held in the near future.”
Habayit Hayehudi leader Naftali Bennett told Netanyahu that his party would leave the government if Israeli Arab prisoners were released and settlement construction was frozen or temporarily suspended as part of extending the peace negotiations.
Meanwhile, senior-ranking MKs from Yesh Atid and Hatnua told Israel Hayom that their parties would also leave the coalition if Netanyahu didn’t find a way to extend the negotiations with the PA until the end of 2014. Foreign Minister and Yisrael Beiteinu leader Avigdor Lieberman, who has said that Abbas does not have the political will or authority to conclude a deal with Israel, prefers that Netanyahu call for new elections in order to remove Hatnua and Yesh Atid from the coalition.