The U.S.-brokered Israeli-Palestinian peace talks were on the brink of a meltdown Wednesday, following a series of events on both sides of the table.
The Palestinian Authority officially asked Wednesday that the state of Palestine become a signatory to 15 international conventions. The Palestinians said that the requests came in response to Israel's failure to release the fourth batch of prisoners it said it would free if peace talks progressed. The Palestinian Authority said it considers itself relieved of its commitment not to seek recognition from international institutions.
The freefall in the peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians began when Israel refused to free the 26 Palestinian security prisoners scheduled for release last Friday, citing the Palestinian Authority's refusal to first commit to extending the talks beyond their April 29 deadline.
When the Palestinians threatened to bolt the talks, Kerry began trying to put together a deal in which Israel would release the agreed-upon 26 prisoners plus 400 others of its choosing, and slow settlement construction outside East Jerusalem. In return, the Palestinians would agree to extend the talks into 2015 along with their pledge not to pursue statehood unilaterally via the United Nations or other international bodies.
Kerry's reported "sweetener" in the deal for Israel was the release of Jonathan Pollard, an American Jewish spy for Israel who has been imprisoned in the United States since 1985.
However, the suggestion of Pollard's release was met with wall-to-wall opposition in the United States. Meanwhile, Israel published tenders for 700 new apartments in a Jewish neighborhood of East Jerusalem, the PA officially applied to the United Nations for the state of Palestine to become a signatory to 15 UN human rights conventions, and in response, Kerry canceled his emergency visit on Wednesday to Jerusalem and Ramallah.
05:20 A.M. The Palestinian ambassador to the United Nations said Wednesday his government may seek to join the International Criminal Court and more UN agencies if there is no progress in the peace talks with Israel.
Riyad Mansour told a news conference that the 15 international conventions the Palestinians are seeking to join is just a first group, and more could follow depending on Israel's actions.
"The leadership will observe and see how things unfold, and it will decide accordingly the timing of the second batch and the third batch and so on and so forth, on the basis of the interests of the Palestinian people," he said.
11:22 P.M. Palestinian officials say that if Israel releases the fourth group of prisoners scheduled as part of negotiations over a framework peace agreement, the Palestinian Authority will not follow-up on its application to join United Nations institutions.
“As far as we’re concerned, there were understandings to release 104 prisoners in exchange for not applying to UN institutions during the nine months of the negotiations,” a Palestinian source close to the negotiations told Haaretz. “The moment the fourth batch of prisoners wasn’t released, we saw fit to apply to the international organizations, and all Israel’s claims that the Palestinians bolted the talks are false."
The application to the UN “is the first step, but if there’s progress regarding the prisoners’ release and later on understandings about the continued negotiations, the Palestinians won’t follow up the application to the UN institutions and won’t apply to the International Court of Justice,” he said.
Palestinian officials said they intend to continue the negotiations with Israel until April 29. During the month the sides will try to cobble agreements on extending the talks, they said.
The Palestinian negotiators vehemently opposed reports that they had agreed to a partial suspension of settlement construction in the West Bank. They also object to Israel’s deciding which prisoners will be freed. “The Palestinian leadership will not agree to this formula,” a senior PLO official told Haaretz.
The continued talks must be based on clear principles, such as the recognition of the ‘67 borders as a basis for continuing the peace process and suspending settlements, he said. “Beyond that there’s no chance of reaching an agreement, even if we continue the process for years to come,” he said. (Jack Khoury)
10:50 P.M. Deputy Foreign Minister Ze'ev Elkin criticizes the emergency Abbas-Livni meeting, calling it "a disgrace to the State of Israel." He also adds that "Israel must stop being the 'sucker' of the Middle East." (Barak Ravid)
10:36 P.M. The White House and the U.S. State Department were furious not only at the Palestinians, for taking unilateral actions, but also by moves in recent days by the Israeli government. White House deputy spokesman Josh Earnest expressed disappointment at "unhelpful, unilateral actions both parties have taken in recent days."
The Americans blame Housing Minister Uri Ariel, claiming that he tried deliberately tried to sabotage the peace talks by announcing a tender for some 700 residential units in East Jeruisalem. A senior U.S. official suspects that this was an old tender presented by Ariel at this time in order to harm the peace talks.
In addition, the Americans believe that Ariel attempted to interfere in the attempts to extend the talks when he came out publicly against Pollard's possible release. The housing minister said in interviews with several media outlets that Pollard himself was not interested in being released in the deal, which would also include the release of Palestinian prisoners.
Concurrently, Kerry phoned both Netanyahu and Abbas. Abbas and Kerry agreed to stay in touch in the coming days, with the Palestinian president confirming that he was still committed to the peace process and was willing to continue negotiations until April 29, the scheduled end of the negotiations.
Nevertheless, both Israeli and American officials estimated that the chances of reaching a breakthrough in the talks were minimal. "We have until the end of April to attempt to extend the negotiations, but the atmosphere between the sides is not at all good," a senior American said.
Ariel's bureau responded that Monday's notice was the third time that the tender had been published, in line with the regulation that every failed tender is automatically republished. The publication was part of a standard process and was not brought to the attention of the minister. (Barak Ravid)
9:50 P.M. Kerry and Abbas talk over the phone and agree to keep in touch over the week. Palestinian source says the talk implies negotiations haven't reached a dead end yet. (Israel Radio)
8:30 P.M. Livni says the Palestinians have reneged on their previous commitments by applying to international conventions. (Israel Radio)
7:29 P.M. Lieberman says Israel did what it could to keep the talks going. He adds that if Palestinians don't want to negotiate, Israel should not chase after them. Israel's real political future lies in the moderate Arab world, he says. (Barak Ravid)
7:20 P.M. Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman says he will vote against the release of Arab-Israeli prisoners as part of a possible deal to extend peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians. (Barak Ravid)
7:10 P.M. Efforts are ongoing to prevent the collapse of the Washington-sponsored peace talks. U.S. envoy Martin Indyk will hold an emergency meeting tonight in Jerusalem. The meeting will be attended by Justice Minister Tzipi Livni and negotiator Isaac Molho on the Israeli side, and by Saeb Erekat on the Palestinian side. (Barak Ravid)
6:48 P.M. The Arab League, acting on a request from Palestinian President Abbas, calls for an emergency meeting of its 22 member states to discuss the meltdown in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. This would make the second time in two weeks that Abbas has gone to the Arab League for regional backing before taking a tough stand in the talks presided over by Kerry. (Haaretz)
6:41 P.M. U.S. Ambassador the UN Samantha Power tells a House Panel that that the U.S. "will oppose any attempt to upgrade the status of the Palestinians everywhere in the UN."
Power noted that a newly formed American-Israeli team meets monthly to discuss and coordinate responses to possible unilateral actions by the Palestinians at the UN. "If the Palestinians go to the ICC it will be a profound threat to Israel and devastating to the peace process," Power says. (Barak Ravid)
6:04 P.M. Housing Minister Uri Ariel calls on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to cancel the Oslo Accords in response to a Palestinian move to join 15 international conventions.
In a Facebook post, Ariel said that the Palestinian constitutes as a "breaking of all the rules and commitments." He added: "We need to respond in kind – and act for the annulment of the Oslo Accords, which led to only terror and killings. The Palestinians have proven once again that there is no reason to give them false gestures and release terrorists and murderers for a process with a predictable ending." (Barak Ravid)
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