The Palestinians threatened Wednesday to resume their campaign for international recognition at the United Nations if Israel calls off a planned release of Palestinian prisoners, deepening a crisis that has threatened to derail U.S.-led Mideast peace efforts.
Israel pledged to release 104 long-serving Palestinian prisoners in four stages at the outset of the current round of talks last July. The fourth and final release was set to take place by March 29.
But in recent days, Israel has signaled it may not carry out the final release. Israel’s chief negotiator, Tzipi Livni, said Tuesday that Israel never committed to the releases and that much would depend on progress in the final month of talks. After months of deadlock, Israel is seeking an extension of negotiations beyond the current late-April deadline.
Palestinian official Nabil Shaath said Wednesday that the Palestinians would “immediately” resume their U.N. campaign if Israel reneges on the release. The Palestinians froze these efforts as part of the U.S.-brokered package that relaunched the negotiations last year.
“We committed to not applying to the U.N. agencies and Israel committed to release 104 ... prisoners in four batches,” he said. “That was the deal. If Israel breaches it, we will too.”
U.S. State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said Tuesday the U.S. supports the prisoner release. “It’s part of what was agreed to between the parties,” she said.
In 2012, the U.N. General Assembly granted the Palestinians upgraded “nonmember state” status, clearing the way for them to join various international agencies to pursue an pro-Palestinian agenda. In particular, Israel fears the Palestinians will try to pursue war crimes charges against Israel in the International Criminal Court.
The spat over the prisoner issue is the latest sign of trouble for U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, who has spent months brokering talks between the sides.
Kerry had initially set a late-April target date for a full peace agreement. After that became unrealistic, he said he would try to present a “framework” agreement by April that could be the basis of additional talks for a final deal.
In another move overshadowing peace talks, Israeli troops shot dead a Palestinian teenager Wednesday in the occupied West Bank, the Israeli military said.
The family of Youssef Shawamra said he was killed after he went foraging for wild thistles used in local cooking. Hospital officials said he was 15, while one relative said he was 16.
A military spokeswoman said he was shot after he and two other youths were spotted tampering with a security fence near the village of Deir al-Asal al-Tahta. She said soldiers had called on them to stop and had fired warning shots in the air.
“After all means were exhausted, the soldiers shot toward the main suspect, at his lower body, and a hit was identified. An Israeli medical team took him to an Israeli hospital where he died of his wounds,” the spokeswoman said.
Angry locals contested the army version. “He did not go out ... to resist the occupation or anything like that. He went to look for a source of income,” said his cousin, Nafez Shawamra, accusing Israeli soldiers of killing him in cold blood.
The boy’s grandfather said Youssef had been with an elderly man planning to collect almonds beyond the wire security fence and two youths. They were all arrested, he added.
The separation barrier cuts through much of the West Bank. The Israelis say it is needed to prevent suicide attacks, while Palestinians say it has eaten up large parts of territory, dividing them from their land.
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