PA Officials Deny Trade-Off Over Prisoners, Jewish Homes
Senior Palestinian Authority figures denied Saturday that a mooted Israeli release of terrorist prisoners is part of understandings in peace talks under which Israel would build more Jewish homes in Judea, Samaria and Jerusalem in exchange.
The media said this week that Israeli ministers were to meet Sunday to approve the release of a second batch of convicted terrorists under the terms of the renewed peace talks.
Public radio said that, in tandem with confirming the release, Israeli authorities would announce a new swathe of Jewish housing to be built in Judea, Samaria and Jerusalem.
The "trade-off" is seen as a way for Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu to placate nationalist members of his government, who are opposed to the proposed release of convicted terrorists. But sources from the Bayit Yehudi (Jewish Home) party told Arutz Sheva they were staunchly opposed to the attempt to tie the two issues.
“We’re telling the Prime Minister – we arethe housing units. Don’t release even a single murderer.”
“The [Jewish] public in Judea and Samaria has very clear principles, and cannot be enticed with bitter candy,” he continued. “Myto Netanyahu is that he give up these dangerous deals.”
“Many freed terrorists return to terrorism. An apartment in Judea and Samaria is not worth a terrorist attack,” he added.
An Israeli official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said in a text message Thursday that such continued construction was part of "understandings" reached with the PA and the Americans ahead of the renewal of talks.
"Israel will continue in the coming months to announce building in the settlement blocs and in Jerusalem," he wrote.
"Both the Americans and the Palestinians were aware in advance of these understandings."
But Yasser Abed Rabbo, secretary general of the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO), denied such understandings exist.
"Establishing a link between settlements and the freeing of prisoners goes against all the undertakings made," he told AFP. It would "create a very dangerous situation that we would not accept at any cost."
He added that the United States, which is sponsoring the talks, had actually "promised that it would manage to reduce Israeli settlement activities to a minimum.
"If (Palestinian Authority) president Mahmud Abbas had known that Israel intended to make a link between settlements and the prisoners, he would have never agreed to relaunch negotiations."
PLO executive committee member Hanan Ashrawi echoed that "Such reports are fabricated and malicious. The Palestinian side never agreed to such an exchange; on the contrary, Palestinian prisoners should have been released in compliance with earlier signed agreements.
"The only linkage with the release of prisoners that (Abbas) approved is in delaying the pursuit of UN membership in international agencies and organisations."
Direct peace talks resume in July after a hiatus of nearly three years.
Maariv daily said Thursday that 26 prisoners would be freed, the same number as in a first tranche in August.
Netanyahu said just before the July 30 resumption of talks that he had "agreed to free 104 Palestinians in stages, after the start of negotiations and according to progress".
Maariv said the next prisoner release would take place on Tuesday.