Last updated: 7 April, 2014

Israelis and Palestinians try to salvage talks

Israeli and Palestinian negotiators were to meet again on Monday in a new effort to salvage the teetering US-brokered peace talks, US and Palestinian officials said.

The meeting came as US Secretary of State John Kerry scrambled to rescue negotiations he kick-started in July, and a week after a fresh impasse saw both sides renege on commitments they made nine months ago.

Kerry has warned there are “limits” to the time and energy the United States can devote to a process which appears to have made no progress amid bitter recriminations and moves Washington has described as “unhelpful”.

“Israeli and Palestinian negotiators met last night to discuss ways to overcome the crisis in the talks,” a US official said Monday.

“The meeting was serious and constructive, and both sides requested that the United States convene another meeting today to continue the effort.”

A Palestinian official confirmed to AFP that a meeting was scheduled, but neither side gave a time or location.

Accompanied by US envoy Martin Indyk, the two sides met Sunday evening, but Palestinian sources told AFP the session ended without any breakthrough and an Israeli official was quoted by local media as saying the process was on the edge of collapse.

Israel’s parliament was also meeting in a special session on Monday, during its spring recess, for a debate on the peace negotiations, called by opposition MPs critical of the government’s handling of the talks.

“This is a government of failure, it is a government that does not give hope but only depression,” Labour party leader Isaac Herzog told the almost empty house.

– ‘No communication’ –

Herzog said Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas shared blame for the impasse.

“There is not even minimal dialogue between Abu Mazen and Netanyahu. There is no communication between them,” he said, using Abbas’s nickname.

“They have been blaming one another since the day the negotiations started, and they don’t meet and don’t talk.”

Netanyahu on Sunday threatened to retaliate if the Palestinians proceed with applications they lodged with the United Nations last week to sign up to 15 international treaties.

“Any unilateral moves they take will be answered by unilateral moves at our end,” the premier said.

Israel says Abbas’s move was a clear breach of the commitments the Palestinians gave when the talks were relaunched, to pursue no other avenues for recognition of their promised state.

The Palestinians say Israel had already reneged on its own undertakings by failing to release a fourth and final batch of prisoners as expected a week ago, and that the treaty move was their response.

Israel has been seeking to get peace talks extended beyond their April 29 deadline.

Former Palestinian negotiator Mohammed Shtayyeh said that to achieve that they would have to free the prisoners and stop building in the occupied West Bank.

“These negotiations with Israel are the last chance for bilateral talks,” he told reporters in Ramallah.

– ‘Farce’ –

The Palestinian diplomatic initiative won support Monday from former US president Jimmy Carter.

“The decision by the Palestinians to exercise their right to join international organisations should not be seen as a blow to the peace talks,” he said in a statement by a panel of senior statesmen known as the Elders.

“I hope that, on the contrary, it will help to redress the power imbalance between Israelis and Palestinians.”

But Hamas, the Palestinian Islamist movement that governs the Gaza Strip, rejected a continuation of any contact between the Palestinian Authority and Israel, having long opposed talks altogether.

“That meetings are carrying on between the PA and Israel with US mediation… shows that the talks with the occupation have stopped publicly but are continuing in secret,” Hamas said in a statement.

“We reiterate our total rejection of talks… Hamas will not be a part of any such farce.”

Kerry warned Friday there were “limits” to the time and energy Washington could devote to the talks, as his appeals to both sides to step back from the brink were ignored.

Abbas rejected Kerry’s plea to withdraw the treaty applications, and Netanyahu rejected US appeals to refrain from tit-for-tat moves, instead asking for a range of retaliatory options.