CMEP Bulletin: Will Prisoner Release Tank Talks?
Weekly update from Churches for Middle East Peace
While the Israeli-Palestinian peace talks are scheduled to continue at least until April 29, mistrust surrounding a planned prisoner release for March 29 could doom the talks early.
As a goodwill gesture to restart negotiations in July, Israel agreed to released 104 Palestinian prisoners from Israeli jails in four waves. Palestinian negotiators then agreed to halt efforts for recognition of Palestine in international bodies and not pursue cases against Israel in the International Criminal Court for the duration of the talks.
The first three releases in August, October and December touched a nerve in Israeli society. Many of these prisoners have been convicted of killing Israelis and the victims’ families protested setting them free. Dissent has also been vigorous within Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s cabinet.
With the talks at an impasse and scheduled to end next month, there is even more pressure surrounding the fourth release. This time, Israeli leaders are using it as a bargaining chip to extend the negotiations, fearing that Palestinian negotiators walk away a few weeks after the release. The New York Times reports, “To head off criticism from those who might say they are balking on a promise, Israeli leaders argue that the release was to be a result of nine months of negotiations, which have not really taken place: The last substantive meeting between the sides was in November.”