World Bulletin/News Desk
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's cabinet will consider releasing more than 100 Arab prisoners held by Israel in order to boost prospects for talks expected with the Palestinians in Washington next week, Israeli officials said on Saturday.
Israel's agreement to free the inmates, held since before a 1993 interim accord with the Palestinians, is seen as critical to U.S. hopes of convening Israeli and Palestinian negotiators to resume peace talks that have been stalled since 2010.
Netanyahu has already agreed to free the prisoners, but wanted cabinet approval to help overcome qualms among Israelis about freeing inmates, Israeli officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
His plan calls for releasing them over at least four stages stretched over a nine-month period, the officials said.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has demanded that Israel free the prisoners, all held for more than 20 years, as a condition for resuming negotiations.
Peace talks ran aground three years ago in a dispute over Jewish settlement building, which Palestinians say deprives them of land rightfully belonging to then which they need for a state.
The Israeli cabinet is also expected to name Netanyahu as head of a four-member senior cabinet team charged with reviewing the 100 or so prisoners slated for release, among thousands of Arabs incarcerated by Israel, the Israeli officials said.
After months of intense shuttle diplomacy by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, Israeli and Palestinian officials have said their negotiators may meet next week in Washington, possibly as early as Tuesday.
But though two weeks have passed since Kerry announced he had laid the groundwork for a breakthrough, no formal date for renewing negotiations has been announced. The two sides still differ over core elements of a deal to establish a Palestinian state alongside Israel.
Abbas had pressed for explicit guarantees that Israel would negotiate a withdrawal based on borders from before the 1967 war. Israel has resisted, insisting it would keep several settlement blocs and East Jerusalem, a city it annexed as part of its capital in a move never recognised internationally.Last Mod: 27 Temmuz 2013, 17:22