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Israel's coalition government opposes US proposal to continue talks

Senior members of Israel’s coalition government have strongly opposed the conditions of US Secretary of State John Kerry’s proposal to continue peace talks with the Palestinians, a situation that threatens to destroy Israel’s ruling coalition if the deal is passed.

The peace process stalled when Israel failed to release the fourth batch of Palestinian prisoners as previously agreed, pushing the Palestinian Authority (PA) to turn to UN organisations for support.

Attempting to prevent this from happening, Kerry suggested a new proposal in which Israel would release 400 Palestinian prisoners and halt settlement construction outside East Jerusalem, in return for releasing the American agent for Israel Jonathan Pollard and continuing the peace talks.

The Israeli newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth monitored the reactions of coalition members to the new proposal, reporting Deputy Israeli Foreign Minister Ze’ev Elkin and Coalition Chairman Yair Levin as saying “the release of prisoners and settlement freeze are redlines.” Both are Likud members.

Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz and Deputy Defence Minister Danny Dannon pointed out that they rejected the release of any Israeli-Palestinian prisoners, with Katz sarcastically asking: “Freeing terrorists and freezing settlement construction for Pollard?” adding that, “This is not how friends behave. It is immoral, it is wrong and it is unfair.”

The Israeli newspaper reported that tourism Minister Uzi Landau hinted that he would not support the proposed deal, and that Home Front Command Minister Gilad Erdan, who voted against the release of the third batch of prisoners, also might go against it.

Earlier this week, Erdan said: “We see that the Palestinians are adamant in not progressing (in talks). In such a reality, to demand [that] Israel releases murdering terrorists is immoral and unacceptable.”

Agriculture Minister Yair Shamir reportedly wrote on his Facebook page that: “Mixing Pollard into a deal to extend talks is an unholy that should not be supported. The Palestinians continue to make dangerous and brash demands.”

Other ministers, including Housing Minister Uri Ariel of the Bayit Yehudi Party, refused to comment on the proposed deal; however, the Jerusalem Post newspaper reported that a majority of Bayit Yehudi members of the Knesset think the party should leave coalition if Kerry’s deal is approved.

A few centrist voices, including Justice Minister Tzipi Livni and Finance Minister Yair Lapid said they would vote in favour of such a deal if it included the release of Pollard and a settlement freeze.

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