Prisoner Release Precedes Middle East Peace Talks

Aug 13, 2013
Originally published on August 13, 2013 2:40 pm

Israeli authorities are preparing to release a group of 26 Palestinian prisoners from jail in the next 24 hours.

It is a gesture intended to kick start a new round of negotiations.

Tomorrow, representatives of the Israeli government and the Palestinian authority will sit down together in Jerusalem and talk. The meeting will be chaired by the U.S.

The BBC’s Middle East correspondent, Kevin Connolly reports.

Reporter

  • Kevin Connolly, Middle East correspondent for the BBC.
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Transcript

MEGHNA CHAKRABARTI, HOST:

From NPR and WBUR Boston, I'm Meghna Chakrabarti, in for Robin Young. It's HERE AND NOW. Israel is preparing to release 26 Palestinian prisoners as part of a deal to restart Middle East peace talks. But Secretary of State John Kerry, who brokered the deal, is hoping Israel's decision to approve more than 1,000 new settlement homes won't derail the talks, which are supposed to begin tomorrow in Jerusalem. The BBC's Kevin Connolly reports.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

KEVIN CONNOLLY: Think of it as an overture to the resumption of peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians. It's an extract from the Psalms, sort of club remix, playing as a group of Israeli dignitaries visit another building project on land captured in the War of 1967.

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CONNOLLY: In most interpretations of international law, this is an illegal settlement. And although Israel rejects that view, Palestinians saw the timing of this ceremony as a deliberate attempt to scuttle the talks. How different things used to look.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED SPEECH)

SECRETARY WARREN CHRISTOPHER: The Israelis and the Palestinians have taken a dramatic step toward a just, lasting, and comprehensive peace that can lift the lives of the people of the Middle East.

CONNOLLY: This is Secretary of State Warren Christopher at the time of the signing of the Oslo Accords, welcoming those huge signs of progress in the process 20 years ago.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED SPEECH)

CHRISTOPHER: They've broken through the barriers of hatred and fear.

CONNOLLY: The truth is that Israeli and Palestinian negotiators these days are preparing to take just a few steps down a road they've traveled along before.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHEERING)

CONNOLLY: Even the prisoner releases used to be bigger. Around the heady period of the Oslo Accords in the mid-1990s, Israel freed 4,000 Palestinians from its jails. This week, it's releasing 26. It's never politically popular in Israel. But when I went to meet one of the men released at the time of Oslo, Abdel al-Anani, he told me everyone had to recognize that difficult decisions were necessary to make peace.

ABDEL AL-ANANI: (Through translator) There's always a price for war, but there is also a price for peace. Those who speak about real peace and coexistence should be ready to pay the price.

CONNOLLY: Ronen Karamani was 18 years old.

(SOUNDBITE OF BBC DOCUMENTARY)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: On August 4th last year...

CONNOLLY: This old BBC documentary tells the story of a young Israeli who was murdered a few years before the Oslo Accords were signed. Ronen Karamani was on his way to meet his girlfriend when he was abducted by a gang of Palestinians, and he was stabbed repeatedly until he died.

ODED KARAMANI: I miss him very much. This I can tell.

CONNOLLY: Ronen's brother Oded was among a group of relatives of Israeli victims of violence who tried to block the prisoner releasing port. Oded says if his brother's killers are to be freed, it should be in return for the conclusion of a peace deal, not just the restarting of peace talks.

KARAMANI: Please, I'm begging for our government, don't let them out.

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CONNOLLY: So when the overture dies down, the immediate prospects of this week's talks may seem a little bleak. And, as always here, it's easier to see the problems or the opportunities. Many issues still divide Israelis and Palestinians, of course, but from this week, they are at least talking about them again.

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CHAKRABARTI: The BBC's Kevin Connolly.

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CHAKRABARTI: Still to come, the corruption trial of Bo Xilai. He was a rising star in China. Now, he's headed to court. What will go on inside that Chinese courtroom, where the conviction rate is 99 percent? Back in one minute, HERE AND NOW. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.