(JTA) – Israel’s government missed the legally required deadline for releasing 26 Palestinian prisoners due to be set free as part of the peace talks.
Israeli law requires the government make the names of the prisoners selected for release known at least 48 workday hours before they are set free, The Jerusalem Post reported Friday, to allow for the processing of High Court of Justice appeals.
The prisoners are due to be released Saturday, and by Friday morning, the five-minister committee chaired by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that names prisoners to be released had not yet make their identities known. No date for convening the committee was publicized.
Israel Radio quoted Jibril Rajoub, a top Palestinian security official, as saying that Israel had relayed through American channels the message that it did not intend to go ahead with the release.
The Prime Minister’s Office has repeatedly turned down requests for comment on the release. Tzipi Livni, the justice minister and the top negotiator with the Palestinians, said last week that there was never an “automatic commitment to release prisoners unrelated to making progress in negotiations.”
Israel Radio and the Jerusalem Post quoted Israeli government officials as saying that the release would be contingent on whether Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas would agree to U.S. pleas to extend talks another nine months beyond an April 29 deadline.
Abbas met with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry for four hours in Jordan Wednesday night and the Times of Israel reported that an additional meeting Friday between Abbas and U.S. special envoy Martin Indyk on Friday ended without progress.
Under the terms of the U.S.-brokered deal that got the sides back to the negotiation table in July, Israel was to release 104 terrorists convicted of crimes before the 1993 Oslo Accords, and the Palestinians were going to delay diplomatic moves in various international organizations to gain statehood status.
Israel has so far freed 78 prisoners and is due to release the fourth and final tranche on March 29, including some Arab Israelis jailed for militant attacks.
Leaders of Netanyahu’s Likud party have opposed plans for releasing the prisoners. Deputy Defense Minister Danny Danon said he would resign if the final release goes through.