Israel to Free Palestinians as Annexation Bill Shakes Talks

Israel prepared to release 26 Palestinian prisoners in a peacemaking gesture even as the chief Palestinian negotiator declared that U.S.-brokered talks, halfway to a critical deadline, had foundered.

Under the terms that brought the sides back to the negotiating table in July, Israel agreed to free 104 prisoners, most of them convicted of attacks on Israelis, in four rounds. Tonight’s release, which still faces a challenge in Israel’s highest court, is to be the third during the nine months of talks the sides agreed to pursue.

Goodwill generated by the releases was eclipsed by an Israeli decision yesterday to push ahead proposed legislation to annex West Bank portions of the Jordan Valley, territory the Palestinians seek as part of a future state. Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said that the vote was a sign Israel was negotiating in bad faith.

“The talks failed,” Erekat told Voice of Palestine Radio today. “We don’t need nine months to pass judgment on the negotiations. Israel has caused them to fail.”

Israel’s chief negotiator, Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, also criticized the decision. Israel “can try to ignore the world and support delusional and extremist legislature,” Livni said today at a Tel Aviv conference. “Yesterday we saw an example of this in the form of the proposal to annex the Jordan Valley.”

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