Kerry says Israelis and Palestinians 'have to make fundamental decisions and compromises'
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Reuters
Kerry and Netanyahu at a press conference in Jerusalem, January 2, 2014. Photo by Reuters

A stormy meeting between American envoy Martin Indyk and the Israeli and Palestinian chief negotiations late Wednesday ended in failure, sources told the Palestinian news agency Ma'an in a report published on Thursday.

The sources described the meeting as a "fierce political battle" and said that Indyk was unable to cool the air and stop the two sidesfrom clashing. The sources said that the Israeli side threatened the Palestinians with unprecedented sanctions in response to Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat's declaration that their team was representing the occupied Palestinian state recognized by the United Nations.

Erekat also threatened that should the situation escalate, the Palestinians will prosecute Israel for war crimes in the international arena.

An Israeli official briefed on the meeting added that Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, who is leading the Israeli team, angrily asked the Palestinians why they had appealed to join the international conventions only hours before the cabinet was to meet to approve the prisoner release.

Earlier Thursday, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry departed from the quiet messages passed along during his visit to Israel this week, and made a public appeal to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to take the "lead" and save the peace process.

During a visit to Algeria for strategic security talks, Kerry said there is a limit to what the Obama administration can do to push the two parties together. "You can facilitate, you can push, you can nudge, but the parties themselves have to make fundamental decisions and compromises," he said. "The leaders have to lead and they have to be able to see a moment when it's there."

He recalled the old adage that you can lead a horse to water but can't make it drink. Now, he said, is the time for the leaders to drink.

Kerry said that Indyk's seven-hour meeting with the Israeli and Palestinian negotiating teams in Jerusalem on Wednesday brought some progress, but that gaps remain.

Kerry said it would be a "tragedy" for both sides to lose the opportunity "to get to those real issues that are the differences of the final status agreement." 

Kerry spoke by telephone with Netanyahu and Abbas late Wednesday, as the American efforts to extend the peace talks seemed on the brink of collapse. During their conversation, the three sides agreed to continue contact until April 29, the final date that had been set to get the negotiations rolling.

Kerry is expected to talk on the phone again on Thursday with Netanyahu and Abbas. 

The meltdown in communication was the result of a series of events on both sides, that culminated Wednesday in the Palestinian Authority officially asking 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.