Israeli and Palestinian negotiators are set to launch the first substantive peace talks in years Monday night in Washington, the State Department said Sunday. The preliminary talks will be led by Israeli Justice Minister Tzipi Livni and Palestinian chief negotiator Saed Erekat and follows “six months of frenetic shuttle diplomacy by Secretary of State John Kerry,” notes the Associated Press.
The announcement of the resumption of peace talks came shortly after Israeli cabinet agreed to release 104 Palestinian prisoners. It's an unpopular move among many in Israel, but Palestinians had long made it a condition to sit down for talks. “Whether it was a grudging gesture of goodwill, diplomatic blackmail or something in between, Netanyahu made a major concession to Kerry and the Palestinians,” points out the Washington Post. The prisoners, the majority of whom have served more than 20 years for attacks on Israelis, “will be released in batches depending on progress in talks,” details the New York Times. In order to explain the controversial move, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu released what he called an “open letter to Israeli citizens.”
The Israeli cabinet also voted to approve Netnayahu’s proposal to put any peace deal up for a referendum. Kerry called Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on Sunday and said they agreed that the talks would "serve as an opportunity to develop a procedural work plan for how the parties can proceed with the negotiations in the coming months,” according to a State Department statement.