US peace envoy to come to Israel next week

Secretary of State John Kerry with former US Ambassador to Israel Martin Indyk at the State Department in Washington, Monday, July 29, 2013, as he announces that Indyk will shepherd the Israeli-Palestinian peace talks. (Photo credit: AP/Charles Dharapak)

Secretary of State John Kerry with former US Ambassador to Israel Martin Indyk at the State Department in Washington, Monday, July 29, 2013, as he announces that Indyk will shepherd the Israeli-Palestinian peace talks. (Photo credit: AP/Charles Dharapak)

Former ambassador Martin Indyk will meet with diplomatic officials; PLO factions are refusing to support scheduled negotiations

The US envoy to peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians will arrive in the country on Sunday for a round of meetings with top Israeli officials.

Sources in Jerusalem told The Times of Israel on Wednesday that Martin Indyk, who was hand-picked by US President Barack Obama to be Washington’s point man at the talks, is scheduled to meet with officials from the Prime Minister’s Office, the Foreign Ministry, and members of Justice Minister Tzipi Livni’s negotiating team.

The PMO would not confirm the reports and it wasn’t clear if Indyk, a veteran diplomat who twice served as US ambassador to Israel, would meet in person with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu or Livni.

Meanwhile, with peace talks progressing, a ministerial committee tasked with overseeing the release of 104 Palestinian prisoners — a confidence-building gesture by Israel to ease the talks — will meet for the first time on Sunday.

The five members of the panel will decide on the identity of the 25 prisoners to be released in the first of four phased releases, all of whom have been imprisoned since before the 1993 Oslo peace accords.

The committee that will handle the prisoner release process is composed of Netanyahu, Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon, Livni, Science Minister Yaakov Peri and Public Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch. It will decide which prisoners on the list of 104 will go free at what stage, determine whether they will be allowed to return to their homes or be sent abroad, and oversee the implementation.

Last month the cabinet approved the prisoner releases, which were a Palestinian precondition for peace talks, and while the decision was widely pilloried by politicians on the right and the Israeli public, Netanyahu said it was for the “good of the country.”

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Peri, a dovish former Shin Bet security agency head from the Yesh Atid party, was a last-minute addition meant to ensure Netanyahu a majority in the small panel in the event that Ya’alon and the more hardline Aharonovitch decided to torpedo aspects of the deal.

Earlier this week, the Palestinian Authority’s chief negotiator, Saeb Erekat, declared that the first batch of prisoners would be released by mid-August. Livni said that another round of peace talks would be held in Israel by the second week of August after negotiations were restarted in Washington at the end of last month. Livni noted that some prisoners would already have been released by the time the second round of talks commenced.

PLO factions refuse to back talks

Meanwhile, all Palestinian factions belonging to the PLO with the exception of Fatah have refused to take part in a committee to oversee negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian due to their principled rejection of negotiations, London-based daily A-Sharq Al-Awsat reported on Wednesday.

One week ahead of the resumption of negotiations in Jerusalem, no Palestinian oversight committee is yet in place, senior Palestinian sources told the daily.

“This committee was meant to be headed by President Abu Mazen [Mahmoud Abbas] and include the secretary generals of the factions as well as a few members of the [PLO] Executive Committee. But all the factions in the PLO refused; the Democratic Front, the Popular Front, the People’s Party, and others,” a source was quoted as saying.

Peace negotiations are set to resume in Jerusalem’s King David Hotel on August 14 in complete secrecy following a three-year hiatus, with meetings taking place in Jerusalem and Jericho intermittently.

Even before the first meeting between Israeli and Palestinian negotiators in Washington July 30, most Palestinian factions had reportedly rejected them.

The Palestinian oversight committee is meant to advise the negotiating team throughout the talks, and will likely be formed at any event and include Abbas’s close circle of officials and negotiators.

“[The committee] will be a formality, because it will only representing those conducting the negotiations,” the source said.

In an interview with Dubai-based news channel Al-Arabiya on July 31, PLO secretary Yasser Abed Rabbo, one of only two Palestinian officials appointed to comment on negotiations, said the prospects of their success are quite low.

“I would not advise anyone to be optimistic about the success of negotiations,” Abed Rabbo told the channel. “We understand that there are tremendous difficulties facing us, especially considering the right-wing Israeli government and the growing power of the settlers, in addition to the unrest in the Arab world.”

Hamas has long blasted Fatah for resuming “pointless” talks with Israel, with deputy political bureau chief Moussa Abu Marzouq calling them “a miscalculated adventure.” Hamas accused Fatah of succumbing to American pressure to negotiate, thereby destroying reconciliation talks with the Islamic faction.

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