RAMALLAH, West Bank — Israelis and Palestinians began to jostle Wednesday over who should be blamed for the possible collapse of peace talks, even as their representatives met with U.S. officials late into the night to try to keep the negotiations alive.
A day after a major breach, it remained unclear Wednesday night how Secretary of State John F. Kerry would keep his signature diplomatic effort going.
The Palestinians made formal the steps that Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas announced Tuesday, delivering signed documents that made the Palestinians a party to 15 U.N. treaties. But Palestinian leaders also assured the United States that they wished to continue the peace negotiations.
The Palestinians had earlier promised to stay at the table and not seek recognition at the United Nations during the talks, but a decision by Israel over the weekend to delay or cancel the release of a final batch of 26 Palestinian prisoners triggered the Palestinian action. The moves have left the peace process in limbo.
“Both sides have taken unhelpful steps over the last 24 hours,” a senior State Department official said, referring to the Palestinians’ signing of U.N. treaties and an announcement by Israel that it would build 708 housing units in disputed neighborhoods of East Jerusalem.
Jonathan Pollard, now 59 and shown above in 1998, was a civilian intelligence analyst for the U.S. Navy who was arrested in 1985 after providing classified information to Israeli agents. He pleaded guilty, was sentenced to life in prison and is eligible for release in November 2015. (Photo by AP)
Kerry canceled plans to visit Abbas in the West Bank on Wednesday but spoke by phone with both him and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
U.S. diplomats do not want the Palestinians to seek statehood recognition through the United Nations, saying that, ultimately, any viable sovereign Palestinian state must arise from talks with the Israelis. Israel’s military occupies much of the West Bank and maintains a naval and land blockade of the Gaza Strip.
Neither side has informed chief U.S. envoy Martin Indyk that they want to quit the talks, according to a U.S. official who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the delicacy of the discussions.
There was no official word Wednesday from Netanyahu about the Palestinian moves.
But Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, who is leading Israel’s negotiating team, told the news Web site Walla! on Wednesday evening that the steps the Palestinians had taken in the past 24 hours were bad for the negotiations and bad for the Palestinians.
“If they want a country, they have to understand that it will only come via negotiations,” she said.
Israeli opposition leader Isaac Herzog said that neither side should walk away. But some members of Netanyahu’s coalition government said the Palestinians should be punished.
“They will pay a heavy price,” Tourism Minister Uzi Landau said on Israel Radio. He urged the government to annex swaths of the West Bank that hold large Jewish settlements. “One of the possible measures will be Israel applying sovereignty over areas that will clearly be part of the state of Israel in any future solution,” Landau said.
Others in the government said Israel should withhold the transfer of Palestinian tax revenue to the West Bank.
An elaborate compromise that Kerry had hoped to work out this week appears beyond reach. He was brokering an extension of the talks through the end of the year, with the goal of establishing an independent Palestinian state.
Kerry had sought Tuesday to play down the severity of the breach and said the immediate goal is to find ways to keep the two sides talking. A senior administration official in Washington said Kerry has gone as far as he can as mediator, absent major decisions by the parties themselves.
The Obama administration’s second-term bid to restart the long-stalled Israeli-Palestinian talks and to swiftly broker a deal was always a long shot.
Abbas’s announcement Tuesday spelled out a plan to sign letters to allow the Palestinians to become a party to 15 multilateral treaties and conventions administered by the United Nations, a right that he said belonged to the Palestinians after they were granted “non-member observer state” status at the United Nations in 2012.
Abbas said signing the treaties has nothing to do with the peace process and only helps form the basis of a future, sovereign state of Palestine.
On Wednesday, Palestinian Authority Foreign Minister Riyad Maliki delivered the signed documents to Robert Serry, the U.N. special coordinator for the Middle East peace process.
The treaties support the rights of women, children, those with disabilities and civilians in wartime. Other protocols deal with genocide, consular relations and apartheid.
It was not clear whether Abbas’s move was part of negotiating brinkmanship or a fundamental shift away from talks with Israel. The Palestinian leader has been under heavy domestic pressure to abandon the negotiations, especially after Israel reneged on its promise to release the prisoners over the weekend.
“The people are asking Abbas, ‘What have you gotten from this peace process?’ The answer is — more settlement construction, more killing, more arrests, more demolitions by the Israelis,” said Ziad Abu Ein, the deputy minister of the bureau that supports Palestinian prisoners. “The Americans want more time. We ask, more time for what? What have they achieved in eight months? Zero.”
The Palestinian negotiating team released a document Wednesday that stressed that they were still committed to continuing the talks until the original April 29 end date.
Yasser Abed Rabbo, secretary general of the Palestine Liberation Organization’s executive committee, told reporters in Ramallah, “We hope Kerry’s efforts will be renewed in the coming days.”
“Kerry knows the reality. We don’t want these efforts to finish,” said Rabbo, according to the Agence France-Presse news agency.
Gearan reported from Brussels. Karen DeYoung in Washington and Ruth Eglash in Jerusalem contributed to this report.