RAMALLAH: Washington is keeping up efforts to put Israel-Palestinian peace negotiations back on track despite “unhelpful steps” taken by both sides in the past day, a senior US official said yesterday.
A surprise decision by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on Tuesday to sign more than a dozen international conventions that could give Palestinians greater leverage against Israel left the United States searching for a way to keep the talks alive past an April 29 deadline.
“Both sides have taken unhelpful steps over the last 24 hours. But neither party has given any indication...that they want to end the negotiations,” the senior US State Department official told reporters in Brusssels.
“We will spend the next few days continuing to discuss with both parties the options for the path ahead,” the official said.
The Palestinians had handed over to a UN representative and other diplomats applications to join 15 international conventions. They include the Geneva Conventions, the key text of international law on the conduct of war and occupation.
A senior Palestinian official, voicing frustration deepened by Israel’s failure to carry out a pledged release of several dozen Palestinian prisoners, also said yesterday that the eight-month-old talks had become merely “negotiating about negotiating”.
Palestinian officials said Israel’s failure to free the prisoners meant Abbas was no longer bound to a commitment not to confront it at the United Nations and other international bodies.
The developments further complicated efforts by US Secretary of State John Kerry to piece together a three-way deal.
The talks were already in trouble over the issues of Israeli settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem — land captured by Israel in the 1967 Middle East War — and Palestinian opposition to Netanyahu’s demand to recognise Israel as a Jewish state.
Israel had said it first wanted a Palestinian commitment to negotiate past the original target date for a deal before freeing the last of the 104 prisoners it promised to release as part of US efforts to restart the negotiations last July.
Kerry had cancelled a planned visit to the West Bank city of Ramallah yesterday to meet Abbas, saying it was important to keep the peace process moving but “in the end, it is up to the parties”.
Palestinians hope Abbas’s move will give them a stronger basis to appeal to the International Criminal Court and eventually lodge formal complaints against Israel for its continued occupation of territory seized in 1967, lands they see as vital to an independent state. Most countries deem the Israeli settlements as illegal.