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April 2, 2014

Middle East peace talks stall over Palestinian prisoner issue

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U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry cancelled a trip to the Middle East this week following a new disagreement between Israeli and Palestinian negotiators over the release of Palestinian prisoners.

Mahmoud Abbas, president of the Palestinian National Authority, also announced that Palestinians will resume their campaign for recognition from the United Nations (U.N.), causing even more tension.

Abbas blamed Israel for stalling an agreed-upon release of 104 Palestinian prisoners, the last of which were to have been freed in March.

“We have been promised nine times that the fourth batch of prisoners would be released. This afternoon was the latest promise that the Israeli government would be convening to approve that. This didn’t happen.”

Earlier, it had been widely reported the U.S. was working to win the release of those Palestinian prisoners. The deal didn’t include a freeze on Israeli settlements, long a demand of the U.S. and Palestinians. Instead, it reportedly involved the possible release from prison of American Jonathan Pollard, a former U.S. Navy intelligence analyst who was convicted of spying for Israel almost 30 years ago. He is still serving a life sentence for his actions.

The U.S. has long rebuffed such requests. White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said President Obama had made no decision to release Pollard. But he didn’t rule it out.

“The need for and benefits of a peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians, a peace that provides the Palestinians with their own state and provides security to a democratic Jewish state of Israel, transcend this issue and many others that are part of the discussions that we have,” he said.


Warm up questions
  1. Where is Israel, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip?
  2. What are ways that people solve land disputes?
  3. What is the United Nations and what role does it play in disputes between countries?
Discussion questions
  1. Which specific events seemed to have increased tension between Israeli and Palestinian leaders?
  2. How can the release of prisoners contribute to the overall health of the negotiation process?
  3. Who is Jonathon Pollard and why is he in prison?
Writing prompts

Imagine that you are John Kerry and you have to get negotiations between Israel and Palestine going again. How would you do it? What actions would you use? What words could you use to convince them to come back to the table?

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