A Palestinian Authority (PA) minister warned on Thursday that terrorists imprisoned in Israel will protest if Israel does not release the fourth batch of terrorists it agreed to release as a “gesture” to PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas.
The PA’s Minister of Prisoner Affairs, Issa Qaraqe, said in a statement quoted by the Ma’an news agency that a group of terrorist prisoners had confirmed their support for Abbas in his persistence on releasing the fourth group of terrorists.
The statement insisted that the release was crucial for any future progress in the peace talks and serves as a test of Israel's reliability in the peace process.
"Israel has been playing an ugly game of blackmail ... using Palestinian prisoners as a pressure tool to obtain political gains, which we completely reject," Qaraqe accused, according to Ma’an.
He added that if Israel does not release all prisoners included in the agreed list and on time, the Palestinian Authority would have no choice but to officially to join international organizations, conventions and treaties, particularly the Geneva Convention in protest.
Qaraqe said that he holds Israel responsible for the consequences of not releasing the terrorists on time, warning of the “anger in the Palestinian street.”
Israel agreed, when talks began in July, to release 104 terrorists in four batches, as a “gesture” to the PA. Three of the four releases have already gone through.
However, there has been little progress in the talks so far to justify the fourth release. In addition, the PA chief negotiator, Saeb Erekat, admitted earlier this month that Abbas was staying in talks solely for the sake of the terrorist releases.
In the wake of these statements, government ministers have been pressuring Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu not to go through with the fourth release.
Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, Israel’s chief negotiator with the PA, recently said that Abbas’s behavior would determine whether Israel goes through with the release of the fourth batch of terrorists.
Livni said that Abbas would have to show he is serious about negotiating peace in order for the terrorist release to go ahead.
"In order to advance serious negotiations, we will all need to take decisions and prove we are determined to reach an agreement and real peace. That burden of proof is also on the Palestinians' shoulders," she wrote on Facebook.
"Accordingly, we will examine the issue of the prisoners, meaning that the key to the cells of the Palestinian prisoners is also to be found in the hands of Abu Mazen (Abbas) and the decisions he will take in the coming days," she added.
Abbas, for his part, has shown no signs that he wishes to make progress in talks. In fact, in a speech this week at the Arab League summit, he launched a tirade against Israel and accused it of being responsible for the peace talks not progressing.
Abbas also accused the Israeli government of trying to get out of releasing the fourth batch of terrorists.