A Palestinian Authority official on Monday said Chairman Mahmoud Abbas refused an Israeli officer for a staged release of security prisoners from PA enclaves in exchange for returning to peace talks.
Issa Qaraqe, the so-called PA Prisoners Minister, said that Abbas insists that all 123 prisoners held since before the 1994 Oslo agreement be freed in a single release.
According to the Bethlehem-based Maan News Agency, Israel offered to release some 25 PA prisoners convicted of murdering of Israelis in terror attacks, followed by another 100 prisoners by the end of the year.
Israel's Hebrew-language press reported that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he would authorize the gesture during or after a direct meeting with Abbas, not before.
Netanyahu’s spokesman Ofer Gendelman denied the report of the prisoners offer.
Qaraqe said Abbas had turned down Israel’s offer, and called on the Israeli government to implement a past agreement with Netanyahu’s predecessor Ehud Olmert.
He claimed the deal struck with Olmert was delayed until kidnapped Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit was freed after five years as a captive of the Hamas terror organization in Gaza.
Since the release of Shalit in October 2011, Qaraqe said, Israel has still not implemented the understandings with Olmert. Israel freed some 1,000 prisoners at the time, but Qaraqe differentiated between this exchange with Hamas and what had been earlier promised to Abbas.
Qaraqe also referenced the 1999 Sinai agreement between former president Yasser Arafat and Israeli premier Ehud Barak, which included a provision to release pre-Oslo prisoners.
Both agreements have long been considered defunct by regional observers who note that no final agreement on prisoners was ever reached by Barak or Olmert before their respective governments’ collapsed.
Qaraqe also insisted that Abbas was refusing the deportation of any freed prisoner. In the October Shalit exchange, some 40 detainees were deported to third countries and 163 to Gaza.
Abbas is raising the issue of releasing pre-Oslo prisoners at all high level meetings with the international community, the minister added.
A presidential spokesman said last month that Abbas will only meet with Netanyahu if Israel agrees to free seriously ill prisoners, and those detained prior to the Oslo accords.
Negotiations have been frozen since September 2010, when Abbas refused to come to the table despite a 10-month building freeze imposed in Judea and Samaria that Netanyahu agreed to at the behest of US president Barack Obama in hopes of drawing Abbas back to the table.
Instead, Israel was rebuffed and Abbas demanded an extension of the building freeze, Israel agreeing to the indefensible pre-1967 lines as borders for a PA state, and the release of all terrorists from PA enclaves held in Israeli prisons.
Abbas also launched a failed unilateral statehood bid at the United Nations in September 2011 in violation of the 1993 Oslo Accords.
In December 2011, the PLO announced "a strategy based on continuous efforts along with the international community to secure full recognition and full United Nations membership, pursuing internal reconciliation, and keeping up the popular resistance."
While PLO officials did not define "popular resistance," regional observers note Article 9 of the PLO charter continues to assert, "Armed struggle is the only way to liberate Palestine. This it is the overall strategy, not merely a tactical phase.”
It also maintains “Palestine” is defined by the British Mandate and is “indivisible” – thus leaving no room for Israel to exist at all.
PLO officials have refused to amend their charter numerous times since the 1993 Oslo Accords were signed.