Poll: Palestinians for extending talks if inmates freed

Israel pledged when talks began in July to release 104 veteran Palestinian prisoners in four batches

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A majority of Palestinians would support extending peace talks with Israel beyond an April deadline, but only in exchange for the release of additional prisoners, according to a poll published Monday.

Without this condition, most Palestinians would reject extending the faltering negotiations, which have achieved no apparent progress in the nearly nine months since US Secretary of State John Kerry brought the two sides to the table.

Some 65 percent of 1,200 Palestinian adults interviewed this month by the Palestinian Centre for Policy and Survey Research would support talks running to the end of the year “if Israel agrees to release more Palestinian prisoners”.

Israel pledged when talks began in July to release 104 veteran Palestinian prisoners in four batches, in exchange for the Palestinians refraining from pursuing legal action against the Jewish state in international courts.

Extending talks

But after the release of a total of 78 inmates so far, Israeli cabinet ministers have warned that the remaining prisoners will not be freed on March 29 unless the Palestinians agree to extend the talks beyond their April 29 deadline.

Palestinians have rejoiced at the releases, seeing the inmates’ imprisonment as political, but Israelis have criticized the government for freeing men who were convicted of killing Israeli civilians.

Should there be no releases beyond the 104 already agreed, 55 percent of Palestinians would reject carrying on the talks, the survey said.

And a narrow majority of 51 percent would support talks continuing if Israel froze its settlement construction in the occupied West Bank -- a key sticking point that has angered Palestinian negotiators, and derailed the last round of talks in 2010.

The poll was conducted in the West Bank and Gaza Strip between March 20-22, and had a three percent error margin.