Jewish Home: We’ll leave coalition if Israeli Arabs walk

(JTA) — The Jewish Home party will leave Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s governing coalition if he releases Arab Israelis from jail, party bosses said.

Ayelet Shaked, a lawmaker and senior member of Jewish Home, said Friday that the party’s position on the issue was a result of the Palestinian Authority’s bid last week to upgrade its status by applying to join 15 international conventions.

“For a year we’ve been hearing that we are losing assets [prisoners] so that the Palestinians don’t go to the United Nations,” she told Army Radio. “Yet now they have, and we are continuing to lose assets.” Party leader Naftali Bennett had made similar statements Thursday to Israeli media.

Shaked added that Jewish Home would be open to discussing the release of such prisoners if the Palestinians withdraw their United Nations applications.

The applications came after negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority broke down following Israel’s failure to meet a March 29 deadline to release 26 prisoners, the final batch of 104 that Israel had pledged to release as part of the talks. A growing number of ministers in Netanyahu’s cabinet had objected to the inclusion of Arab Israelis in the release.

According to Army Radio, Netanyahu and Justice Minister Tzipi Livni have agreed in principle to the release of a total of 430 prisoners, including Arab Israelis, in exchange for extending talks for another nine months and for the release of Jonathan Pollard, who is serving a life sentence for spying for Israel, from his U.S. prison cell.

The Palestinians’ applications to join international conventions followed the missed deadline; Netanyahu responded with financial sanctions on the Palestinian Authority.

U.S. State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki told reporters Thursday that the U.S. negotiating team “and both parties remain in intensive negotiation” and that, “They had another meeting today. The gaps are narrowing but any speculations about an agreement are premature at this time.”

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