The Palestinian Authority (PA) is biding its time to act after Israel refused to release the fourth batch of terrorists Friday, a source told A-Sharaq Al-Awsat Sunday, and is waiting for US government officials to react before taking unilateral steps on the issue in violation of previous agreements.
"The [PA] leadership does not want to cause conflict immediately by taking responsibility for the destruction of the peace process," the sources stated.
The statement is the latest in a series of fast-paced developments since Friday, when 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. Rajoub added 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 Ma'an.
On Saturday, 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. The move has been deeply unpopular in Israel, and sparked widespread protests and anguish by victims of terrorism and their supporters.
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.
While the Israeli government itself has remained mum over the issue, Jewish Home Chairman Naftali Bennett assured the public that "there is no way" further releases will happen.
"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 and Construction Minister Uri Ariel added Saturday night that Jewish Home may threaten to leave the coalition if such a release goes through.
Terrorist releases an obstacle to peace
Israel agreed to release 104 terrorist prisoners as a "gesture" to the Palestinian Authority (PA) and a precondition to ongoing peace talks. So far, 78 have been released; the final batch had been due for release on Friday, March 28.
The fourth batch of terrorist releases has sparked considerable controversy, as MKs point out that the previous releases have done nothing to further talks, and that several of the released terrorists have contributed to the increase in terror attacks over the past year.
PA chief negotiator Saeb Erekat stated earlier this month that Chairman Mahmoud Abbas was staying in talks solely for the sake of the terrorist releases, prompting Israeli officials to reconsider completing the deal.
Meanwhile, the PA consistently blames “settlement construction” in the region as being an obstacle to peace, and has demanded that Israel withdraw to 1949 Armistice lines. To that end, Abbas threatened that unless a building freeze was imposed on Jewish construction in eastern Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria, the peace talks would come to an end.
Abbas has repeatedly said that unless all his preconditions are met, there will be no peace with Israel.