Israeli and Palestinian officials accused each other of sabotaging peace talks before meeting with a U.S. envoy trying to get foundering negotiations back on track.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Palestinians jeopardized the talks by resuming their efforts to win statehood recognition from international organizations. “Palestinian threats to turn to the United Nations won’t influence us -- the Palestinians have much to lose in a unilateral effort like that,” Netanyahu said at the weekly cabinet meeting today in Jerusalem, according to a text message from his office.
Palestinian officials accused Israel of being the first to break arrangements mediated by the U.S., by not carrying out the last of four scheduled releases of Palestinian prisoners. “Israel wants never-ending negotiations, negotiations for the sake of negotiating, while it buys time to build more settlements,” senior Palestinian official Yasser Abed Rabbo told Voice of Palestine radio.
The Israeli and Palestinian accusations will make it that much harder for U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry to bridge the gaps between them and get negotiations he initiated last July beyond their current deadlock. Palestinian and Israeli officials are to meet today with U.S. envoy Martin Indyk in a bid to salvage the talks, whose future was thrown in doubt last week after Kerry said he would consult with President Barack Obama on whether to continue them.
Israeli Justice Minister and chief negotiator Tzipi Livni said yesterday on Channel 2 television that talks were in “real crisis,” and called Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’s decision to restart a diplomatic push for statehood a “violation and big mistake that will make it very hard to go back to normal.”
The Palestinians say they promised not to pursue further international recognition of the de facto state of Palestine that the UN General Assembly recognized in 2012 after Israel agreed to free a total of 104 of the thousands of Palestinian prisoners Israel holds. With the March 29 release held up, they abandoned that constraint and applied to join more than a dozen international treaties, they say. Israel, which had delayed the release while pressing for a Palestinian commitment to extend talks, promptly called it off.
Netanyahu warned, without specifying, that unilateral Palestinian measures would draw unilateral Israeli steps. Minister of Intelligence and Strategic Affairs Yuval Steinitz suggested in an interview with Israel Radio that one possibility could be withholding tax revenue and fees Israel collects on behalf of the Palestinian Authority. After the General Assembly recognized Palestine as a non-member observer state in November 2012, Israel approved the construction of 3,000 new settler homes.
The chief Palestinian negotiator, Saeb Erekat, questioned the value of the negotiations, asking in an interview with Israel’s Army Radio if it was “a crime” to seek the establishment of a Palestinian state on lands Israel captured in the 1967 war.
“If it’s a crime for me to ask the Israeli government to say that we want to achieve two states” based on 1967 lines, “what am I doing with you? What are you negotiating to achieve?” Erekat said.
The impasse is the most serious since Israel and the Palestinian Authority agreed in July to resume negotiations for nine months, ending April 29. Kerry, who had aspired to achieve a final peace accord by that date, has scaled back his ambitions to keeping talks alive beyond the end of the month.
Economy Minister Naftali Bennett, whose Jewish Home faction opposes the establishment of a Palestinian state, said Israel is preparing war crimes charges against Abbas, over the transfer of money to the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip and the “financing of terrorists and murderers themselves.” Abbas’s Fatah movement controls the West Bank.
The Justice Ministry had no immediate comment when asked whether such a move was being planned.
Bank of Israel Governor Karnit Flug said today at a Jerusalem briefing that while the Israeli economy is “resilient” to geopolitical shocks, a positive outcome to the peace talks could help growth. Israel’s benchmark TA-25 stock index dropped 0.6 percent to 1409.15 at 12:20 p.m. in Tel Aviv.
Rocket fire at Israel has intensified in recent weeks from Gaza, whose governing Hamas group is considered a terrorist organization by Israel, the U.S. and European Union. Israeli aircraft struck targets in Gaza overnight in response; no injuries were reported on either side.