Israel, Palestinians to Meet Amid Efforts to Defuse Crisis

Israeli and Palestinian negotiators agreed to sit down today to try to defuse a crisis that threatens to scuttle U.S.-sponsored peace talks.

Negotiations hit an impasse last week after Israel delayed a scheduled Palestinian prisoner release and the Palestinians retaliated by resuming their campaign to extend international recognition of a state of Palestine. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, who has been shepherding the talks for more than eight months, is deciding whether to continue the efforts.

Palestinian Foreign Minister Riad Malki told Voice of Palestine radio today that negotiators are scheduled to meet. Asked whether he expected progress, Malki replied, “I don’t think anything is going to come of this meeting.”

Government spokesman Liran Dan said the Palestinians are sabotaging negotiations, telling Army Radio that while Israel wants talks to progress, it won’t be at “any price.”

Israel Radio, citing unidentified officials, said Israel has agreed to go back to the talks if the Palestinians suspend their diplomatic campaign.

The crisis atmosphere deepened earlier this week after Kerry said Israel’s announcement of new settlement construction derailed the talks, a criticism Israeli officials rejected.

“John Kerry knows very well that the conditions for starting negotiations didn’t include any limitations on our building, and certainly none on building in Jerusalem,” Communications Minister Gilad Erdan said today on Army Radio.

‘End of the Road’

Yesterday in Washington, where Kerry met with Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said her boss wasn’t engaging in a “blame game.”

Israeli Economy Minister Naftali Bennett, whose Jewish Home party opposes the creation of a Palestinian state, said the talks have “reached the end of the road.” In an interview with Israel Radio, he repeated his call for the annexation of major West Bank settlement blocks.

Negotiations deadlocked just as Kerry was trying to win agreement to extend them beyond the nine months the sides consented to July. His original target had been to broker a final peace accord by the end of this month, an aspiration that fizzled as Israelis and Palestinians accused each other of undermining talks.

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