PA: Israel Offered to Free 400 Terrorists; Bennett: No Way
Officials with the Palestinian Authority (PA) claimed on Saturday that Israel had offered to release 400 terrorists from its prisons so that peace talks continue, eliciting a response from Jewish Home chairman Naftali Bennett, who said that such a release will never take place.
According to the PA officials, who were not named, Israel and the United States had offered the release of the 400 terrorists, which would come in addition to the fourth batch of 104 terrorists it agreed to release when talks began, in exchange for the PA agreeing to continue the talks for a period of six months.
The officials also said that Israel’s proposal had included the release of Arab-Israeli terrorists as part of the fourth batch.
There has been no confirmation of the report by Israel, but Bennett reacted angrily to it on Saturday night.
"As soon as Shabbat ended I started receiving hundreds of calls about the reported deal of releasing 400 prisoners in exchange for continued negotiations. Let me be clear: That will not happen," he wrote on his Facebook page.
Housing Minister Uri Ariel, also of the Jewish Home party, reacted to the report as well and said, “If this is true, I will recommend that we leave the coalition.”
There have been conflicting reports over the past several days regarding the terrorist release.
On Friday, PA official Jibril Rajoub said that Israel had informed the PA through American mediator Martin Indyk that it will not release the fourth batch of terrorists, adding that the move was a "slap in the face of the U.S. administration and its efforts."
Hours later, Fatah official Hazem Abu Shanab said that Israel would regret its decision not to go through with the release of the fourth batch.
He added that the international community will be inclined to hold Israel responsible for hindering the peace process.
"The release of prisoners is a legitimate, lawful, and human right. Their freedom should not be linked to concessions regarding extending or continuing the diplomatic process," Abu Shanab told the Ma'an news agency.
On Saturday, the pan-Arab London-based newspaper Al-Hayat reported that Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu had told Secretary of State John Kerry that his governing coalition may fall apart if Israel goes ahead with the fourth planned tranche in the terrorist release.
Al-Hayat said that Kerry has asked PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas to extend negotiations even if Israel fails to release additional terrorists. Abbas, for his part, told Kerry he would not discuss continuing negotiations until the terrorists are freed, including 14 Israeli Arabs.