Israel's negotiating position with the Palestinians in US-sponsored peace talks is the toughest it has taken since before the 1993 Oslo Accords, according to a senior Palestinian official.
Yasser Abed Rabbo, a top official with the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO), said on Tuesday that the current Israeli negotiating position is the worst in more than 20 years, adding there had been "no tangible progress" in talks that resumed in July after a hiatus of nearly three years.
The decision to release the prisoners is one of the most difficult I've had to make.
The statement comes as Israel is set to release 26 Palestinian prisoners, the second batch of 104 inmates who are to be freed in line with commitments to US-brokered peace talks.
"They want security first, and that the borders of the state of Palestine should be set out according to Israeli security needs that never end, and that will undermine the possibility of establishing a sovereign Palestinian state," Abed Rabbo, secretary general of the PLO executive committee, said in a statement.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu insists on an Israeli military presence in the Jordan Valley region of the occupied West Bank in any final settlement, although the Palestinians refuse to countenance troops on land they want for a future state.
US Secretary of State John Kerry, who in July nudged the Israelis and Palestinians into resuming talks frozen since September 2010, held a seven-hour meeting with Netanyahu in Rome last Wednesday.
On Monday, Kerry said that the Israeli-Palestinian talks, which take place under an American-imposed media blackout, have "intensified". He said that since the end of July, 13 direct meetings had taken place.
"The pace has intensified, all the core issues are on the table and they have been meeting with increased intensity," Kerry said. "It is no secret to anybody that this is and remains a difficult process, there is no shortage of passionate sceptics."
A difficult decision
The prisoners' release, which is planned for Tuesday night, will see 21 prisoners returned to their homes in the West Bank and the remaining five returning home to the Hamas-run Gaza Strip.
All were convicted for killing Israelis, with most of the attacks occurring before the 1993 Oslo Accords, which granted the Palestinians limited self-rule but failed to bring about an independent state. Of the 26, all but two prisoners were serving life sentences.
The prisoner release has sparked tensions within Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's coalition.
Netanyahu agreed to release a total of 104 Palestinian prisoners in four stages as part of the latest resumption of talks aimed at resolving the decades-old conflict.
A first tranche of 26 prisoners was freed on August 13."The decision to release the prisoners is one of the most difficult I've had to make," Netanyahu told his rightwing Likud party on Monday in remarks broadcast on public radio.
The issue is sensitive for the Palestinians, the vast majority of whom view those held in Israeli jails as political prisoners punished for resisting occupation.
Nineteen of the 26 due for release are members of the Fatah party led by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, three are members of Hamas, and four are from the left wing Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), according to a prisoner list released on Sunday.