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Israeli Opposition Lawmakers Propose Replacing Prisoner Release with Construction Freeze

As the nine-month time limit on US Secretary of State John Kerry’s peace mission rapidly draws to an end and the American interlocutor seeks to extend the process, opposition Israeli lawmakers have urged Prime Minister Netanyahu to halt the fourth installation of prisoner releases agreed to at the start of the talks and instead halt all construction in Israeli communities located on land acquired in the 1967 war – arguably the main bone of contention between the parties. In recent weeks there has been much speculation about whether Israel would release the final 26 out of the 104 prisoners it promised to set free as a good will gesture to get the talks started last July. Palestinian officials, who have warned that to forego the release would be a gross breach of an Israeli commitment, see the final phase as a promise while the Israelis see the release conditional on progress in the talks. The opposition legislators headed by the Labor Party’s Hilik Bar have asked the prime minister to shelve the release – which is enormously unpopular across the political spectrum – and instead offer the “settlement freeze,” the lack of which has been the Palestinians’ primary point of contention. Palestinian officials have threatened to turn to the United Nations in pursuit of the trappings of statehood and presumably seek to initiate actions against Israel in the International Court of Justice at The Hague. But on Monday, according to the Palestinian Ma’an news agency, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas said he is willing to extend the Kerry process if Israel goes ahead with the prisoner release and freezes post-1967 construction.