JERUSALEM (JTA) — Israel will not release more Palestinian prisoners without getting something in return, and such a deal will be brought to the Cabinet for approval, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said.
Netanyahu made the statements Sunday morning at a meeting of his Likud party government ministers ahead of the weekly Cabinet meeting.
The remarks came a day after Israel missed a deadline for releasing a fourth group of Palestinians from Israeli prisons. Israel had agreed in August to release a total of 104 prisoners, including 14 Israeli-Arabs, in order to jump-start peace negotiations, which are scheduled to end at the close of next month.
“I suggest that all speculation be avoided until the full picture becomes clear, and this could happen in a matter of a few days,” Netanyahu said. “Either this is going to be settled or it’s going to fall apart. At any rate, there won’t be any deal until it’s clear what the State of Israel is getting in return, and if there is a deal it will be brought to the government for approval.”
The Times of Israel and Haaretz reported that Israel had offered to release another 400 Palestinian prisoners if the Palestinians agreed to extend the talks past their nine-month deadline and again agree not to turn to international bodies, including the United Nations, for statehood recognition.
Israeli Economy Minister Naftali Bennett, head of the Jewish Home party, said he would work to prevent the release of additional prisoners, saying in a Sunday morning Facebook post that he has received “hundreds of inquiries” about the rumored deal.
“Let me be clear: This will not happen,” he said in a Facebook post.
Also Sunday, chief Palestinian peace negotiator Saeb Erekat reportedly issued a statement disputing that the prisoner releases had anything to do with continuation or progress in the peace talks. Instead, the Palestinian Maan news agency reported, Erekat said that Israel’s agreement to release the 104 prisoners held since before the 1993 Oslo Accords was in exchange for Palestinian agreement not to turn to international bodies to achieve statehood.
He said the Palestinians were still holding “sensitive talks” with the United States and Israel.