Israeli and Palestinian negotiators, joined by a U.S. team, plan to meet tomorrow to discuss whether both a will and a way exist to put Middle East peace talks back on track, according to an official familiar with the situation.
The meeting’s outcome is likely to influence the Obama administration’s review of whether Secretary of State John Kerry continues his peacemaking efforts. The official discussing the session asked not to be named because the meeting is private.
Kerry plans to consult with President Barack Obama on the status of his effort, as Israelis and Palestinians have sparred over who’s responsible for the latest impasse that quashed a deal to extend negotiations and free Palestinian prisoners.
“Regrettably in the last few days both sides have taken steps that are not helpful,” Kerry said in Morocco yesterday before his flight back to the U.S. at the end of a regional tour.
“There are limits to the amount of time and effort that the United States can spend if the parties themselves are unwilling to take constructive steps,” he said. “So it’s reality check time.”
It was the most pessimistic statement by Kerry, who landed back in Boston last night, since he brought the sides together last July for negotiations that were supposed to produce a peace accord this month. Instead, Israelis and Palestinians are caught up in increasingly acrimonious exchanges that threaten even Kerry’s scaled-down target of keeping the talks alive beyond the end of April.
Israel on April 3 canceled the already postponed release of 26 Palestinian prisoners, saying it was a response to renewed efforts by Palestinians to gain recognition at the United Nations. Palestinian leaders said their move had been triggered by Israel’s failure to keep its promise over the prisoners.
Saeb Erekat, the chief Palestinian negotiator, said at a conference in Ramallah yesterday that the negotiations aren’t dead and “if those prisoners are released, we can sit down with Israel and talk.”
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas this week announced his application to join 15 international treaties and conventions, in an effort to protest the stalemate in talks without incurring a cutoff in American aid.
The U.S. has opposed the Palestinian bid for statehood at the United Nations, saying the issue is best addressed in talks with Israel, and Abbas agreed to put it on hold for the nine months that the Kerry-led negotiations were due to last.
Kerry will confer with Obama and National Security Adviser Susan Rice on whether other matters such as the crisis with Russia over Ukraine should take a higher priority for him.
“Both parties say they want to continue,” Kerry said yesterday of Israel and the Palestinians. “Neither party has said that they have called it off. But we’re not going to sit there indefinitely.”
To contact the reporter on this story: Terry Atlas in Rabat at firstname.lastname@example.org