JERUSALEM — Israel approved building nearly 1,200 settlement homes Sunday and agreed to release 26 long-held Palestinian security prisoners — highlighting an apparent settlements-for-prisoners trade-off that got both sides back to peace talks after a five-year freeze.
Concerns rose, especially among Palestinians, that the price is too steep.
The announcement was Israel’s third in a week on promoting Jewish settlements on land the Palestinians want for a state and fueled Palestinian fears of a Israeli construction spurt under the cover of U.S.-sponsored negotiations.
In Israel, the most vocal protests came from relatives of those killed in attacks carried out by Palestinians slated for release. Bereaved relatives held up large photos of their loved ones during a Supreme Court hearing on an appeal against the release.
“Why are we releasing butchers now? What for?” asked Gila Molcho, whose brother, lawyer Ian Feinberg, was stabbed to death by Palestinians who broke into a European aid office in Gaza City in 1993.
Israelis and Palestinians are to conduct talks Wednesday in Jerusalem, after a preparatory round two weeks ago in Washington.
The United States envisions a pact within nine months on the terms of a Palestinian state alongside Israel, including a border, security arrangements, and the fate of Palestinian refugees.
The Palestinians want a state to include the West Bank, Gaza, and east Jerusalem, territories Israel took in 1967’s Mideast war. They are willing to swap some West Bank land for Israeli land to let Israel annex some of the largest Jewish settlements. Israel has built dozens of settlements since 1967 that are now home to some 560,000 Israelis.
The diplomatic paralysis of the last five years largely resulted from disputes over the settlements, deemed illegal by most of the global community.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas long insisted he would resume talks only if Israel froze construction. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu rejected a freeze. Mr. Abbas, under pressure from U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, eventually dropped it as a condition for talks.
In return, Mr. Kerry got Israel to agree to release 104 Palestinians serving long prison terms, many for involvement in killing Israelis. They are to be freed in four stages during the talks.