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Israel hands PLO proposal to extend peace talks
Published Monday 31/03/2014 (updated) 01/04/2014 15:28
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A protester waves a Palestinian flag towards the Israeli border
fence during a protest marking Land Day at the border between
Israeli and Gaza Strip on March 30, 2014.(AFP/Mohammed Abed)
JERUSALEM (AFP) -- Israel has handed the PLO a proposal aimed at extending peace talks beyond an April 29 deadline, as efforts to salvage the negotiations came to a head.

The fate of the US-brokered peace process could be decided within days, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said earlier, warning that "either the matter will be resolved or it will blow up".

Netanyahu's remarks to ministers from his right-wing Likud party came as US officials were working around the clock to prevent a collapse of the negotiations over a dispute about Palestinian prisoners.

"In any case, there won't be any deal without Israel knowing clearly what it will get in exchange," Netanyahu said.

According to a Palestinian official, Israel presented President Mahmoud Abbas with a draft agreement to push forward with the talks. Abbas was to examine the proposal during the night, he said.

An Israeli official would not provide details on the proposal but told AFP: "Now the Palestinians need to reply if they are willing to continue negotiations."

With the talks teetering on the brink of collapse, Washington has been fighting an uphill battle to coax the two sides into accepting a framework proposal that would extend negotiations beyond April 29.

But the issue has become tied up with the fate of 26 veteran Palestinian prisoners whom Israel was to have freed this weekend under the original terms agreed to relaunch talks.

Israel on Friday informed the Palestinians it would not free the prisoners, with the US State Department confirming it was working "intensively" to resolve the dispute.

US officials said Secretary of State John Kerry, in Paris Sunday, spoke with Netanyahu and later told reporters in the French capital that it was not yet appropriate for the US to make any public judgement about the situation "at this important moment".

"It's really a question between the Palestinians and the Israelis, and what Prime Minister Netanyahu is prepared to do," he added.

US State Department sources did not rule out the possibility that Kerry could fly from France to the Middle East if necessary on Monday.

Kerry himself said "we'll see where we are tomorrow (Monday) when some judgements have to be made."

'Critical week'

Israel's Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon said: "This is a critical week for the Israeli-Palestinian issue", noting Kerry's efforts and the "commitment and contribution of President (Barack) Obama towards this endeavor".

Yaalon, who made the remarks during a meeting with chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff General Martin Dempsey, had recently criticised Washington's foreign policy and reportedly called Kerry's peacemaking efforts "obsessive" and "messianic".

The PLO says it will not even consider extending the talks without the prisoners being freed, but Israel has refused to release them without a Palestinian commitment to continue the talks, prompting a fresh crisis of confidence.

"We agreed to the fourth batch," Intelligence Minister Yuval Steinitz told reporters on Sunday, while stressing it would not happen as long as Abbas was preparing to "blow up the negotiations" the very next day.

President Shimon Peres, in Austria, said the sides were "working around the clock in an effort to reach a breakthrough in the talks."

"I hope that in the coming days there will be positive developments in the negotiations," he said.

"The ball is now in Israel’s court," Palestinian prisoners minister Issa Qaraqaa told Voice of Palestine radio, saying the leadership was expecting an answer from the Israeli government within 24 hours.

Aside from the release of the 26 veteran detainees, Abbas reportedly wants an Israeli commitment to free more prisoners as one of his conditions for agreeing to extend the talks.

An Israeli official told AFP on Saturday that Israel was willing to free the prisoners but the Palestinians were "creating difficulties".

Under the deal that relaunched peace talks, Israel agreed to release 104 prisoners held since before the 1993 Oslo peace accords in exchange for the Palestinians freezing all efforts to seek further international recognition.

So far, Israel has freed 78 of them in three batches, and the last group -- which the Palestinians insist includes 14 Arab Israelis jailed for nationalist attacks -- was to have been released on March 29.

Israel's government has announced the construction of thousands of settler housing units and its army has killed 60 Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza since the talks began.

The Israeli government has also insisted that it maintain a military and civilian presence in the occupied Jordan Valley, which forms around a third of the West Bank, and has insisted that the PLO recognize it as a "Jewish state," despite having already officially recognized Israel decades earlier.

Ma'an staff contributed to this report
1 ) Simon / CH
31/03/2014 16:15
It's clear they don't want peace.Extending peace talks beyond April 29 deadline(just waste of costly time)means more time for confiscating Land,more illegal settlements construction on Palestinian territories,more time for house demolitions and ethical cleansing.Also the so-called US-brokered peace process must be seen as bias,obtaining time for the zioniosten to prevent the palestinians from joining UN and going to the hague...."Jewish state"! should be Recognized as racists apartheid State.

2 ) Brian Cohen / Israel
31/03/2014 17:55
"ethical cleansing". I like that one. What does it mean? Does it mean we are ethically adding more Palestinians to to the West Bank and Jerusalem and Gaza so that there are now more Palestinians than ever before in history living there? Is that ethical cleansing? And isn't switzerland the real apartheid racist state? For hundreds of years you were xenophobic and racist and probably still are. Do you know what the word "apartheid" means? Good grief.

3 ) Mel / USA
31/03/2014 20:07
There's another GREAT way for PLO to waste another MONTH,& 67yrs Palestinian genocide by Zionism! A month?That should give Zionism time to plan,what? 3 more Jewish-only colonies on pluralistic Palestinian land! You,PLO,do remember that ALL FACTIONS OF Zionism are BOUND BY OATH to never cede 1 inch of Palestine,while "The Land of Israel"(Judocracy for Jews)is in progress(expansion)?All factions!Over your DEAD bodies &the rubble of your ancestral HOMES! You don't NEGOTIATE with your oppressors!

4 ) Jenna / US
31/03/2014 21:02
is just a show to portray the illusion that these talks will progress something beyond. The framework has already been established since the second intifada; Palestine occupied by Israel, maps have been already drawn. The consolations are pointless.The only way these peace talks can be achieved is if both parties have something to give up for the other party. Both parties are focusing on the benefits rather than the losses (which are supposed to be focused on).
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