Israel will have "difficulty" approving the fourth batch of terrorist prisoner releases, a "gesture" meant to promote peace talks, if the Palestinian Authority (PA) doesn't extend peace talks past their April deadline, warned Israeli government ministers Thursday.
104 terrorist prisoners were promised to be released in stages last July. The final batch is set for March 28. However, the PA has adamantly refused to extend peace talks. PA Chief Negotiator Saeb Erekat reported in February that PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas is only continuing talks in order to free the rest of the terrorists.
"As long as we don't know what is happening -- if the talks will be extended -- it will be difficult for Israel to approve a move as dramatic as releasing Arab Israelis in the fourth tranche," said Science Minister Yaakov Perry (Yesh Atid), according to an aide. Past releases have sparked protests in Israel.
Perry added that "Israel will have to be certain the talks are continuing in order to approve the fourth release."
Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman announced "we think the negotiations should be extended to the end of the year at least." As for the the fourth batch of prisoner releases, Liberman remarked he didn't "see any chance, if it's not clear beforehand that the negotiations will continue till the end of the year."
"If there's no change in tone and attitude, there's no point releasing them," stated Liberman.
The PA has been intransigent in refusing to recognize Israel as the Jewish state, demanding that descendants of Arabs who fled Israel in 1948 "return" to Israel, and demanding Israel freeze construction in Judea, Samaria and eastern Jerusalem.
On Monday, US President Barack Obama will meet Abbas at the White House. "We hope that by the end of next week we will be informed that we've progressed from indirect negotiations through the Americans to direct talks," said Liberman.
"Who releases murderers with no deal?"
Liberman, who has a reputation as a hardliner, has made some surprising statements about the peace talks. In January he called US Secretary of State John Kerry's peace plan, which divides Jerusalem and demands massive Israeli withdrawals, “the best offer Israel will ever receive.”
Eliezer Marom, formerly the head of the Israeli Navy, criticized the terrorist released in January, asking "who releases murderers before having some kind of agreement, and why are they making a deal that we can continue to build in exchange for the release of murderers with blood on their hands? This has never happened before."