The proposed halt to Israeli public construction in the occupied
West Bank would be part of a package that includes the release of
Jonathan Pollard, an Israeli spy jailed in the United States, and
hundreds of Palestinians held by Israel.
The source, who is close to talks held on Monday and Tuesday between
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and U.S. Secretary of State John
Kerry, said that in return for the Israeli steps, Palestinians would
agree to extend the peace talks beyond an April 29 deadline into
"The settlement freeze does not include East Jerusalem, private
construction or building of public institutions," the source said,
speaking on condition of anonymity.
Another official involved in the negotiations said the Israeli
government "will adopt a policy of restraint when it comes to state
tenders for construction" in the West Bank.
There was no immediate Palestinian comment on the emerging deal.
Israeli settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, land
captured in the 1967 war and which Palestinians seek for their
state, have been a major stumbling block in the talks that began in
July. Most countries view those settlements as illegal.
Israel last imposed a partial settlement freeze in 2009 in a bid to
restart peace negotiations. Palestinians returned to the talks in
2010 but negotiations collapsed within weeks after Netanyahu refused
to extend the 10-month moratorium.
The current negotiations, aimed at creating a Palestinian state and
ending a decades-long conflict, have also stalled over
Palestinian opposition to an Israeli demand that the country be
recognized as a Jewish state.
They appeared to be have been on the brink of collapse at the
weekend when Israel failed to press ahead with a promised release of
several dozen jailed Palestinians.
Under the proposed deal, Israel would go ahead with the release of a
fourth group of Palestinians, the last among the 104 it pledged to
free as a confidence-building measure under an agreement that led to
the renewal of the current talks.
That group of inmates also includes 14 Arab citizens of Israel, a
potential political stumbling block for Netanyahu.
[to top of second column]
In addition, Israel would also free 400 other Palestinian prisoners,
including women and minors, who have not been convicted of killing
Israelis and are close to completing their sentences.
Palestinians regard brethren jailed by Israel as heroes in a quest
for an independent state. Israel views them as terrorists.
Freedom for Pollard, a U.S. citizen and former Navy analyst who
pleaded guilty in 1987 to charges of spying for Israel, could
provide Netanyahu with leeway he may need to persuade hardliners in
his governing coalition to agree to a partial settlement freeze and
the wider prisoner release.
U.S. intelligence agencies have long opposed any early release of
Pollard, and U.S. officials said no decision has yet been made.
Pollard, now 59, is due for parole next year.
Sources close to the peace negotiations said Pollard could be freed
before the Jewish holiday of Passover, which begins in two weeks'
time. A spokesman for Pollard's wife, Esther, declined comment.
Kerry, who has visited the region more than 10 times in little more
than a year as he strives for a peace deal, met separately with
Netanyahu and Palestinian chief negotiator Saeb Erekat before
leaving on Tuesday for a NATO meeting in Brussels.
The focus of his Middle East mission appeared to have shifted from
reaching an elusive framework agreement by April 29, including
general principles for a final peace accord, to simply keeping both
sides talking beyond that previously set deadline.
A Palestinian official said Kerry might return to the region late on
Wednesday to see Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.
(Writing by Maayan Lubell; editing by Jeffrey Heller and Angus MacSwan)
[© 2014 Thomson Reuters. All rights
Copyright 2014 Reuters. All rights reserved. This material may not be published,
broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.