Kerry Cancels Mideast Visit After Palestinians Renew UN Bid

Abbas promised to continue negotiations until end of April, U.S. secretary of state says.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry climbs up the stairs of the plane to leave Tel Aviv, Israel.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry climbs up the stairs of the plane to leave Tel Aviv, Israel, April 1, 2014. Reuters

American efforts to reach a "deal" to extend the negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians have reached a severe crisis Tuesday evening. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry canceled his planned visit to Jerusalem and Ramallah barely two hours after Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas signed 15 international conventions the Palestinian state is interested in joining, and after earlier in the day Israel issued 700 new tenders for housing units in Jerusalem neighborhood across the Green Line.

In a press conference in Brussels, Belgium, Kerry attempted to play down the crisis, and noted that it is premature draw conclusions about the day's events.

"We urge both sides to show restraint," he said. Kerry added that none of the treaties signed by the Palestinian president has anything to do with UN agencies.

"Abbas has given me his word that he will continue to negotiate until end of April," Kerry said.

The American secretary of state said that no agreement has been reached "regarding the release of any prisoner." According to him, there are many possibilities and the decision is up to the Israeli cabinet. Kerry added that efforts to extend the negotiations will continue, but emphasized that "it is up to the parties to make decisions."

Unanimous PLO vote

Less than two hours earlier, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas announced that he had signed 12 documents that the PA would use for its application.

Abbas made the a surprise address at a meeting of the Palestinian Liberation Organization's action committee.

Israeli officials said Jerusalem estimates that Abbas' step is an attempt to exert last-minute pressure on Israel and the United States to improve the Palestinian side of the deal to extend the peace talks, which were due to end on April 29. The Prime Minister's Office has yet to comment on the matter.

Before signing the documents, Abbas had asked the members of the PLO leadership in attendance to vote yea or nay - and the vote was unanimously in favor. Abbas then signed the papers.

Abbas said the leadership made its decision after Israel did not commit to releasing a fourth round of prisoners.

"We don't want to clash with the U.S. administration, but we are left with no choice," Abbas said. "Secretary of State John Kerry made great efforts and I met with him 39 times since the beginning of the negotiations. We are not working against anyone but we have no other option."

Abbas added: "It is our right to turn to UN institutions and we had postponed it for nine months and never agreed to give up that right."

The Palestinian premier said, however, that the leadership still seeks a solution to the conflict, through negotiations and through popular resistance.

A Palestinian official told Haaretz that the first document signed by Abbas was a petition to join the Geneva Convention, followed by institutions that have to do with human rights and civilian protection. He noted that the Palestinians have not yet made a request to join the International Criminal Court at The Hague.

The official said the Palestinian leadership agreed to give the U.S. mediation efforts 24 hours. Regarding the new tenders Israel issued for construction beyond the Green Line, in Gilo, the official said: "Israel wants to sabotage Kerry's [efforts] and thinks that the Palestinians are too weak to take a stand."