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Israeli and Palestinian negotiators try to restart talks as $100m in PA taxes frozen

The US mediated talks between Israeli and Palestinian negotiators in Jerusalem today aimed at restarting the peace process
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas attends peace talks with Israeli counterparts (AFP)

Israeli and Palestinian negotiators held US-mediated talks today to try and restart the peace process, a Palestinian official said, although hopes of a possible breakthrough were played down.

Talks were in full crisis mode yesterday when Israeli Prime Minister Binjamin Netanyahu ordered most government ministries to cut communication with the Palestinian Authority (PA). The freeze of a $100m worth of Palestinian taxes, which the Israeli's collect on their behalf, have now been confirmed as a result of the suspension. 

Despite the inflamatory move, however, Israeli television reported the two sides were on the verge of a striking a deal to extend peace talks beyond their original 29 April deadline. The deal, which could be finalised within "a few days", would see a final batch of Palestinian prisoners released in return for Washington freeing American-born Israeli spy Jonathan Pollard, Channel 2 television said.

The channel cited "sources in Washington" as saying that "the parties are to sign an agreement to extend negotiations beyond 29 April. The agreement will include the release of Palestinian prisoners in exchange for the release of Jewish American spy Jonathan Pollard.”

Washington was quick to dismiss the reports. A US official, who asked not to be named, told AFP the "reports are incorrect", without going into details. A Palestinian official also denied any deal was on the table, telling AFP that there was still a "deep chasm" between the two sides.

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The Israelis have repeatedly asked Barack Obama and previous US presidents to release Pollard, who is serving his sentence in North Carolina for passing US secrets on Arab and Pakistani weapons to Israel during the mid-1980s. Pollard, who was given a life sentence in 1987, is eligible for release from November 2015. 

The current round of peace talks has stumbled from hurdle to hurdle. 

The peace process hit a major impasse at the end of March when Israel broke an agreement to release a final batch of 27 Palestinian prisoners. The Palestinians responded in turn by seeking membership of 15 international treaties.

US Secretary of State John Kerry this week seemingly blamed Israel for the latest deadlock, citing their announcement of 708 new settlement homes to be built in East Jerusalem as a key cause. "In the afternoon when they were about to maybe get there 700 settlement units were announced in Jerusalem - and poof," Kerry told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

The Americans now appear to be questioning how much time to devote to the perpetually faltering talks. “There are limits to the amount of time the president and myself can put into this, especially if the parties can’t commit to being there in a serious way,” Kerry said.

Social Media Reactions:

Social media reactions to today's talks have tended to be dismissive of any progress, with widespread cinisism over the tax freeze's timing. 

Barak Ravid, diplomatic correspondent for Haaretz, said the meeting ended without progress being made:

Ali Abunimah, co-founder of Electronic Intifada, commented on the news:

Chemi Shalev, US editor of Haaretz, ridiculed the decision to withhold tax revenues from the Palestinians:

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