Palestinian prisoner list released prior to renewed talks

A committee of Israeli government ministers released a list of Palestinian prisoners to be freed by Israel in advance of the first round of peace negotiations.

The list released at 1 a.m. Monday includes 14 prisoners who will be transferred this week to Gaza, several of whom are members of Hamas. Eight prisoners on the list were due to be released in the next three years and two in the next six months.

Following the publication of the list, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said the release violated agreements with Israel, saying the prisoners were not supposed to be deported to Gaza or abroad.

Abbas and Erekat reportedly told senior U.S. officials that they would not agree to the deportation of any prisoner released, according to Haaretz.

Twenty-one of the prisoners on the list were convicted of killing Israelis or Palestinians accused of being collaborators, and most had served at least 20 years.

Some families of the prisoners’ victims at their request were notified of the release decision before the list was made public.

Under Israeli law, the names of the prisoners must be made public 48 hours before their release in order to allow Supreme Court challenges.

Eventually 104 prisoners jailed before the 1993 Oslo Accords will be released in phases over the next eight months, pending progress in the talks.

Sunday’s committee meeting took place without Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who underwent hernia surgery late Saturday night.

Abbas and Erekat also decried Sunday’s announcement by Israel of new construction approvals for hundreds of apartments in the West Bank and eastern Jerusalem.

The peace talks are scheduled to resume Wednesday in Jerusalem following a three-year freeze, but the Palestinians have threatened to skip the meeting, according to reports.

Middle East Quartet: Israel, Palestinians to offer peace proposals

Israel and the Palestinians have agreed to make proposals on issues of territory and security within three months, keeping peacemaking efforts alive, an official from the Quartet of Middle East peace mediators said on Wednesday.

Representatives from both sides met envoys of the Quartet—made up of the United States, Russia, European Union and United Nations—after previous attempts to jumpstart peace negotiations had fallen short.

“The parties agreed with the Quartet to come forward with comprehensive proposals on territory and security within three months in the context of our shared commitment to the objective of direct negotiations leading toward an agreement by the end of 2012,” a U.N. official said on behalf of the Quartet.

Territory and security are two issues that have held up Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, which collapsed about a year ago in a dispute over Israeli settlement building in the West Bank.

The Quartet envoys also called on the sides to “resume direct bilateral negotiations without delay or preconditions” and said they would meet the parties regularly over the next 90 days.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office said in a statement after his top negotiator met the Quartet envoys that Israel was interested in restarting direct talks without preconditions.

Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat, after meeting the Quartet officials, said in a statement that the Palestinians were “prepared to sit at the negotiating table as soon as the Israeli government freezes all settlement construction and accepts clear terms of reference, specifically the 1967 borders.”

In the absence of peace talks, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has sought statehood recognition in the United Nations, a move opposed by Israel.

Reporting by Ari Rabinovitch

Abbas asks for Palestinian state [VIDEO]

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas applied for statehood recognition at the United Nations in New York on Friday morning.

Abbas handed his application to Secretary General Ban Ki-moon at about 11:30 a.m., various media reported, minutes ahead of his planned speech to the General Assembly.

The request now goes to the U.N. Security Council. If it garners a nine-vote majority of that body’s 15 members, the United States has vowed to veto it.

In that case, Abbas will take his case to the General Assembly, where he will ask for enhanced status.

Video of Mahmoud Abbas formally submitting and application for statehood to U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon. Story continues after the jump.

The request for statehood exposes Washington’s dwindling influence in a region shaken by Arab uprisings and shifting alliances that have pushed Israel, for all its military muscle, deeper into isolation.

“It is not a secret that the U.S. administration has done everything it could to prevent us from going (to the United Nations),” Abbas, 76, told reporters late on Thursday.

“But we’re going without any hesitation and we will continue whatever the pressure … because we are asking for our right, because we want our independent state,” he added.

Video of Abbas’s address to the GA. Story continues after the jump.

Abbas will set out his case in a speech to the General Assembly, where Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will also take the podium to argue that only direct negotiations between the two sides can lead to a Palestinian state.

President Barack Obama, who told the United Nations a year ago he hoped Palestinians would have a state by now, said on Wednesday that he shared frustration at the lack of progress.

But he said only Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, not actions at the United Nations, could bring peace—despite a long history of fruitless peace talks.

Abbas is resorting to United Nations even though Israeli and U.S. politicians have threatened financial reprisals that could cripple his Palestinian Authority, which rules the West Bank.

Should that happen, Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said, the PA could dissolve itself, throwing responsibility for ruling the whole area back to Israel as the occupying power.

“We will invite you to become the only authority from the River Jordan to the Mediterranean,” Erekat told Israel Radio.

In the West Bank, Palestinians expressed a mix of pride and wary anticipation ahead of their U.N. claim to statehood.

Flags and portraits of Abbas and his predecessor, the late Yasser Arafat, draped buildings in a central Ramallah square where Palestinians awaited a live broadcast of Abbas’ speech.

“This is something we should have done a long time ago,” said Khaled Shtayyeh, 42, carrying a Palestinian flag. “It was always stopped by international pressure. I am very proud.”

Erekat: EU countries to upgrade Palestinian missions

Some 10 European Union countries have plans to upgrade the status of their Palestinian diplomatic missions, lead negotiator Saeb Erekat said.

The upgrades would bring the missions one step closer to becoming embassies whose officials enjoy full diplomatic immunity, The Jerusalem Post reported.

Norway decided last week to upgrade the status of its Palestinian mission, which encouraged the Palestinians to approach several European countries about following suit, Erekat told the Palestinian Ma’an news service.

Erekat did not say which countries he was referring to in Sunday’s announcement.

The European Union will not recognize Palestinian statehood until an “appropriate” time, its Foreign Affairs Council said last week in a statement.

The 27 EU foreign ministers meeting Monday in Brussels issued the statement in response to a letter from Erekat to EU foreign policy head Catherine Ashton asking the body to join those countries that already have recognized a unilaterally declared Palestinian state.