Israeli Minister of Strategic Affairs Yuval Steinitz, who accompanied Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to Washington, has said that freezing the construction of settlements and releasing Palestinian prisoners are not on Israel’s agenda, Kol Israel Reshet Bet Radio reported.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas announced on Monday that he would only extend peace talks with Israel beyond the April deadline if settlement construction is halted and additional Palestinian prisoners are released, including women and children.
Last year, the Israeli government agreed to release around 100 Palestinian prisoners who had been in jail since before the Oslo Peace Accords. The prisoners were scheduled to be released in four batches as a good-will gesture ahead of the Palestinian Authority’s agreement to resume the peace talks. Three batches have already been released and the fourth batch will be freed later this month.
Steinitz said that releasing more prisoners was “not an option”.
He told Israel Radio that Israel’s position towards both the negotiations with the Palestinians and the Iranian nuclear programme has “massive” support in the US Congress, pointing out that American lawmakers “recognise that the Palestinians refusing to recognise Israel as a Jewish state and their incitement against the [Israeli] army are the main obstacles to peace.”
Steinitz added that: “The Palestinian demand to freeze settlements and release prisoners as conditions to continue talks is not currently on our agenda.”
Israel’s Housing Minister Uri Ariel, from the far right Jewish Home Party, also pointed out that “the prime minister has announced there wouldn’t be” any halt in the construction of settlements.