Itongadol.- Senior state officials confirmed Thursday morning that after three years of nearly total disconnect, peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians will be renewed next week in Washington.
Two days earlier, the cabinet will discuss gestures such as Palestinian prisoner release, as well as a referendum bill which will require the approval of Israeli citizens of any agreement.
Minister Silvan Shalom discussed the issue Thursday in a press conference about the launch of a joint industrial zone in Jericho, saying: "We hope that the talks between Israel and the Palestinian in Washington will begin next week, hopefully Tuesday. We want and are interested in moving forward in the negotiations and meanwhile see an improvement in the Palestinian economy."
Shalom met with Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat, and said he did not expect the Palestinians not to show up for the talks: "It would be a slap in the face of the Americans, and I don\’t think that would happen. When starting a process, there are always last-minutes difficulties," Shalom said.
Regarding the release of 82 Palestinian prisoners, the energy and water minister said that it was a painful and difficult issue, but that it was not one of the preconditions in the permanent agreement. He added that the decision would probably be brought before the government and added there was a chance the release would be made during the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Fitr in two weeks.
Shalom added that a construction freeze, which was a prerequisite, was not accepted by Israel. He stressed that the Jordanian King worked very hard behind the scene in order to renew negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians.
Following a statement from the past weekend by United States Secretary of State John Kerry, it was agreed Wednesday night that Justice Minister Tzipi Livni and the prime minister\’s emissary Attorney Yitzhak Molcho would meet with Erekat in Washington on Tuesday.
The talks are expected to be held under maximum cloak of confidentiality, and only the Americans will address the media and report about the progress.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addressed the issue while visiting an IDF recruitment center: "It takes two to tango, but in the Middle East it takes three," he said. "I hope there will be persistence in the goal to achieve peace that we can defend."
On Sunday, the prime minister will present the cabinet with a draft to a Basic Referendum Law. The Basic Law will require a public referendum on any agreement that will be signed and will involve the transfer of territories from Israel\’s sovereignty. The bill is expected to be brought to first reading in the Knesset next Wednesday, before summer recess.
In recent days, Likud members have demanded to apply the law on Judea and Samaria as well, and not only on territories of Israeli sovereignty, as stated in an existing law, which is not a Basic Law. The bill that was drafted does not specify Judea and Samaria; however Likud members explained that a referendum will be carried out also in cases of transfers in these areas.
The coalition is in disagreement in regards to the referendum bill; however Yisrael Beiteinu Chairman Avigdor Lieberman, who opposes referendum, is not expected to fight the bill, while Justice Minister Tzipi Livni said she will vote against it. Nevertheless, the bill is expected to be approved by the majority of the cabinet.
In the explanatory notes to the bill, it reads that "in light of significant political developments that lead to the start of negotiations between the State of Israel and the Palestinian Authority, the government sees importance and urgency to approve, alongside the approval of negotiations proceedings, a basic law that requires a referendum on any agreement or government decision, that entails the waiving of legislation, jurisdiction and administration in territories of the State of Israel."
It was further added that "the purpose of the bill is to establish an obligation to conduct a referendum in order to approve political agreements or one-sided decisions. The aim is to involve the State\’s citizens in the approval procedure of these agreements and decisions."
Earlier this week, Habayit Hayehudi Chairman Naftali Bennett demanded to quickly promote the referendum bill which was recently submitted by Knesset Members Ayelet Shaked, Orit Struk and Yariv Levin, and conditioned the budget approval in exchange for the bill promotion.