Negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority (PA) are set to begin today in Jerusalem.
The talks - between Israeli chief negotiator, Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, and her PA counterpart Saeeb Erakat - are to be held in complete confidentiality, as US Secretary of State John Kerry promised would be the case when the decision to restart talks was announced. At this time it is not even known where or when the two will be meeting in the capital.
The talks are set to take place against the backdrop of ongoing tension over Israeli building in Judea, Samaria and Jerusalem. Despite having been informed of the building prior to talks, and despite the fact that the construction will take place in areas which even the PA has accepted in previous negotiations will be within Israeli borders, Palestinian Authority officials and their supporters have expressed outrage at the plans.
John Kerry said this morning that he has already spoken to Netanyahu and Livni about the building plans.
"Prime Minister Netanyahu was completely open with PA Chairman Abbas that he would be announcing some additional building in places that will not affect the peace map."
Speaking to Israeli Army Radio he said that the US believes the announcement to build in Judea, Samaria and Jerusalem were "the wrong step to take," but said that the administration also recognized the need to take Israeli concerns into account.
Housing Minister Uri Ariel (Bayit Yehudi) maintained this morning that building in Judea and Samaria would continue.
"This is just the first step, and a small one at that."
"We don't need to give excuses for building in the land of Israel," Ariel said to Army Radio, "The fact that there are negotiations is an issue in itself - and something about which I have my own opinions as well - but the attempt to connect the two issues is a mistake."
PA official Ashraf al-Ajrami responded to the minister's statement, asking: "if you want to get to a two-state solution, why do you need to build in the West Bank [Judea and Samaria]? After that it will be more difficult for Israel to evacuate all the settlements, which shows that the Israeli government is not serious about peace talks."
Another backdrop to the renewed talks was the release of 26 PA terrorists, many of whom were convicted of murdering Israeli civilians. 15 were transferred to Gaza, and another 11 were received by PA Chairman Abbas in Ramallah, to scenes of public jubilation.
As the 11 terrorists who were freed to Ramallah arrived at their destination, they were welcomed by thousands of cheering PA Arabs and were escorted to the Muqataa compound, where they were greeted by PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas himself.
"This is the first group," Abbas told the crowd at the official welcoming ceremony, according to AFP.
"We shall continue until we free all the prisoners from Israeli jails," he added.
“Allah willing, all will return to us soon. We say to all prisoners in the jails: We will not rest until you are all with us," Abbas declared.
The 26 terrorists who were released on Tuesday are the first group out of 104 terrorists that Israel agreed to release as a gesture to Abbas, in exchange for him resuming peace talks.