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Middle East peace talks 'could be revived'

Israel may agree to 'restraint' in settlement-building

US diplomats are close to a deal that would rescue the apparently doomed Middle East peace talks, an official close to the negotiations claimed today.

Fraught discussions were on the verge of collapse last week after a planned release of Palestinian prisoners did not go ahead.

But US Secretary of State John Kerry’s emergency shuttle diplomacy — flying to Israel from Europe on Monday to meet Israeli and Palestinian officials — apparently produced a new deal to keep the talks going past a provisional late-April deadline.

There would be no commitment to a freeze on construction in settlements in occupied territories but Israel would show “great restraint” and not issue new construction tenders.

And the US threw convicted spy Jonathan Pollard into the mix. Washington has long opposed any talk of releasing the US intelligence analyst, convicted in 1987 of passing reams of information to Israel.

Mr Pollard is serving a life term, but is eligible for parole in November 2015.

The official said if the deal was agreed then Mr Pollard, a cause celebre for the Israeli right, would be released by mid-April.

But Housing Minister Uri Ariel, from the hardline Jewish Home party, rejected the deal if it was linked to freeing Palestinians convicted of killing Israelis.

And he cited people close to the spy who claimed Mr Pollard himself was opposed to being freed in exchange for Palestinians.

Palestinians also gave the proposals a frosty reception, saying it fell well short of their demands to completely halt settlement construction and free 1,000 prisoners of their choosing.

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