Palestinians, Israelis Agree: Peace Talks Not Progressing

U.S. optimism is impossible to understand, says one top Palestinian official; Kerry considered deferring next stage of prisoner release, Haaretz learns.

Jack Khoury
Jack Khoury
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Jack Khoury
Jack Khoury

Senior Palestinian Authority officials, including members of the Palestine Liberation Organization executive committee, have expressed deep disappointment with the handling of current negotiations between Israel and the PA by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry.

Haaretz has learned that senior Palestinian leaders have warned the Americans of the consequences of creating expectations over a future peace agreement or a framework agreement when, instead of progress, the opposite appears to be the case.

“For the first time I can agree with [Foreign Minister Avigdor] Lieberman and [Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu when they said that the parties are not close to an agreement," a senior Palestinian official told Haaretz. "This time, they’re right.”

It is impossible to understand Kerry's comments about the sides getting closer and the atmosphere of optimism that he's trying to create, the official said. “

It's clear that Kerry is trying to promote the process but, in practice, there’s nothing to grasp onto, because Netanyahu is interested first and foremost in maintaining his coalition and not advancing the process," the official continued. "And that’s without mentioning the genuine obstacles that he's creating, such as continued construction in the settlements and his opposition to all of the Palestinian demands regarding Jerusalem, borders and refugees… Under such circumstances, there is nowhere to move forward to.”

One of Kerry’s suggestions for creating momentum in the peace process was to defer the third stage of the ongoing Palestinian prisoner release, scheduled for December 29, Haaretz has learned.

The suggestion was to delay the release by a month, so that it could be timed to coincide with a declaration of real progress in the talks, including a possible agreement on an interim framework agreement. The proposal was dropped after being discussed at a meeting between Kerry and Palestinian chief negotiator Saeb Erekat in Washington on Monday, Haaretz has learned.

Qadura Fares, director of the Palestinian Prisoners Club, told Haaretz that PA officials dealing with the prisoner issue have not received any official word of a change in timing for the next prisoner release.

Kerry was apparently looking to promote a combined move involving the prisoner release and a declaration of progress in the talks, on the assumption that it would give a boost to the peace process, Fares explained.

However, the suggestion was dropped. "From our standpoint, the third stage is to take place on December 29,” Fares said. "Any holdup in the timing of the release would be met with anger on the Palestinian street and among the prisoners’ families," he added. Instead of advancing the peace process, “it would kill it,” he said.

Senior Palestinian leaders noted that deferring the prisoner release and continuing with construction in West Bank settlements would mean the end of the understandings underlying the current talks.

In other words, the Palestinians could once again take their case to the United Nations and seek to upgrade their status at UN agencies, or consider filing cases against Israel at the International Criminal Court in The Hague.

Israel freeing 26 Palestinian prisoners to keep U.S.-sponsored peacemaking on course for a second round of talks, Gaza Strip, August 14, 2013.Credit: Reuters

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