JERUSALEM: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Sunday it would be clear within “days” whether the crisis-hit peace talks would be extended beyond an April 29 deadline, local media reported.
His remarks, which were reported by several Israeli news websites, come as US officials work around the clock to prevent a collapse of the negotiations over a dispute about Palestinian prisoners.
“It could be a matter of just days,” Netanyahu reportedly told ministers from his rightwing Likud party who met just before the weekly cabinet meeting.
“Either the matter will be resolved or it will blow up. And in any case, there won’t be any deal without Israel knowing clearly what it will get in exchange,” he said.
“And if there is a deal, it will be put to the cabinet for approval.”
With the talks teetering on the brink of collapse, Washington has been fighting an uphill battle to coax the two sides into accepting a framework proposal which would extend the negotiations beyond April to the end of the year.
But the matter has become tied up with the fate of 26 veteran Palestinian prisoners whom Israel was to have freed this weekend under terms of an agreement which brought about a resumption of talks.
Israel on Friday informed the Palestinians via a U.S. mediator that it would not release the fourth and final batch of prisoners, with the US State Department confirming it was working “intensively” to resolve the dispute.
The Palestinians say they will not even consider extending the talks without the prisoners being freed, but Israel has refused to release them without a Palestinian commitment to continue the talks, prompting a fresh crisis of confidence between the parties.
Issa Qaraqaa, the Palestinian prisoners minister on Saturday told AFP that the crisis was likely to be resolved quickly.
“There are efforts to solve the crisis and I believe that in 24 hours everything will be clearer,” he said.
Under a deal that relaunched peace talks last July, Israel agreed to release 104 prisoners held since before the 1993 Oslo peace accords in exchange for the Palestinians freezing all efforts to seek further international recognition.
So far, Israel has freed 78 of them in three batches, and the last group was to have been released on March 29.