U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry last week said the Israeli and Palestinian negotiating teams would keep the details of the renewed talks confidential. Yet, on Saturday, chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said Israel would release 26 Palestinian prisoners on Aug. 13. This will be the first stage of the four-stage prisoner release to which Israel has agreed as part of the restart of the peace process.
Israel's ministerial team tasked with managing the prisoner release issue is expected to meet in the coming days to approve the first stage. The Israel Security Agency (Shin Bet) is currently formulating the lists of the four groups to be released over the course of the next nine months, the time window set for the new peace negotiations.
Last week, the Israeli government approved the release of 104 terrorists who have been imprisoned in Israeli jails since before the 1993 Oslo Accords. The government also authorized a ministerial team to determine which terrorists will be freed and the timing of the releases. The ministers will also decide whether to release the terrorists to Judea and Samaria or to the Gaza Strip. The ministerial team is led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and includes Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, Public Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch, Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon and Science and Technology Minister Yaakov Peri (who is a former Shin Bet chief).
Livni, the head of Israel's negotiating team, said on Saturday that Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas did not receive two of the preconditions that he sought for the renewal of talks: a map with the 1967 borders and a settlement construction freeze. She said the multi-staged prisoner release would be contingent on the seriousness of the talks.
Livni said that Netanyahu was serious about reaching a peace agreement, as long as the Palestinian side was also serious.
"Everyone who enters the room knows how the negotiations will ultimately end," Livni said. "A successful end to the negotiations is also in the interest of the Palestinians. If it's not, then they won't have a state."
The next meeting of Israeli and Palestinian negotiators is expected to take place in Jerusalem next week.
A senior U.S. official said this weekend that Martin Indyk was "the right choice" as the U.S.'s special envoy for the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. Kerry officially appointed Indyk to the role last week. The official said Indyk was deeply familiar with all the issues involved and would be a "fair broker."