RAMALLAH  -  Reuters/AFP  -  The Palestinians played down on Monday the significance of an imminent meeting in Washington of their top peace envoy with his Israeli counterpart, saying formal negotiation would not begin unless their opening terms were satisfied.

The Palestinian position seemed to run counter to US hopes that bringing together Saeb Erekat and Israel’s Tzipi Livni in the coming days would kick-start peacemaking stalled for almost three years over Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank.

In another setback to the negotiators’ meeting, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu planned first to seek cabinet-level approval for the prospective new talks, which were announced by US Secretary of State John Kerry on Friday.

At the time, Kerry, winding up months of intensive and discreet mediation, predicted Erekat and Livni would join him in Washington “to begin initial talks within the next week or so”.

But that appeared unlikely as Netanyahu, facing scepticism within his rightist governing coalition at the diplomatic drive, wanted to await the next full sitting of his cabinet on July 28 or possibly an earlier session of the smaller security cabinet. “It looks like negotiations will begin only next week, not this week,” an Israeli official said late on Sunday, disclosing Netanyahu’s plans to win over recalcitrant ministers.

Meanwhile, Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas said any future peace deal with Israel will be put to a referendum, in remarks published Monday, four days after Washington announced the resumption of negotiations.

“Any agreement with the Israelis will be brought to a referendum,” Abbas told Jordanian government-owned Al-Rai newspaper. “The United States is serious about reaching a political solution to the Palestinian cause by establishing a Palestinian state on 1967 lines with east Jerusalem as its capital.” US Secretary of State John Kerry announced on Friday that Israeli and Palestinian negotiators had agreed to meet to prepare a resumption of direct peace talks, stalled since 2010.

“Any security solution must permanently get Israel out of Palestinian land, while the Jewish state has the right to preserve its security within its borders, with the approval of neighbouring countries,” Abbas told Al-Rai. “We want a two-state solution and this idea exists among the US adminstration. But until now we have not achieved anything.” The last round of direct peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians broke down in 2010 over the issue of Israeli settlements in the West Bank and east Jerusalem.

Meanwhile, Israel is poised to decide on the release of around 80 long-serving Palestinian prisoners ahead of renewed peace talks, an Israeli official said on Monday. US Secretary of State John Kerry announced on Friday that Israeli and Palestinian negotiators had agreed to meet to prepare a resumption of direct peace talks, stalled since 2010.

“The prisoner releases will start when talks commence,” the Israeli official told AFP on condition of anonymity. “We’re talking about releasing them in stages.”

There were “some 80 prisoners” lined up for release, all of them “pre-Oslo,” the official added, referring to Palestinians imprisoned before the 1993 Oslo peace accords.

The official would not say when a decision on their release would be made, and by whom - whether the issue would go before the government, ministers or just Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Israeli radio said Netanyahu would present the issue to his cabinet “in the next few days” ahead of the first meeting between Israeli and Palestinian negotiators expected to take place early next week in Washington.

The official could not confirm the report.

The last round of direct peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians broke down in September 2010 over the issue of Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank and east Jerusalem.