US Secretary of State John Kerry told reporters late Tuesday that Washington has every intention of continuing to push forward negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority despite Ramallah’s decision to formally apply for full membership in 15 international organizations.
“What is important to say about the Middle East right now is it is completely premature tonight to draw any kind of judgment, certainly any final judgment, about today’s events and where things are,” Kerry said. “This is a moment to be really clear-eyed and sober about this process. It is difficult, it is emotional, it requires huge decisions, some of them with great political difficulty, all of which need to come together simultaneously.”
The secretary added that while the perception may be that Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has given up on peace talks, he has kept his vow not to join any UN bodies and to continue the talks until their scheduled deadline of late April.
“Let me make it absolutely clear: None of the agencies that President Abbas signed tonight involve the UN,” Kerry said. “None of them. And President Abbas has given his word to me that he will keep his agreement and that he intends to negotiate through the end of the month of April.”
The Palestinian Authority decided Tuesday to launch plans to join 15 international organizations and treaties in protest against Israel's failure to release the fourth and final batch of Palestinian prisoners.
The unexpected decision came just a day before Kerry had been due to travel to Ramallah for talks aimed at finalizing a complex, three-way deal that would enable the talks to continue into 2015. A US official said that the trip was now off.
Kerry refused to place responsibility for the crisis on any of the parties. Instead he sought to reassure the public that Washington was still committed to move the talks forward, irrespective of how bleak their prospects for success may appear.
“Now obviously, the prisoners were due on the 29th, which was Saturday,” Kerry said. “I’m not going to get into the who, why, what, when, where, how of why we’re where we are today. We’re where we are today – and the important thing is to keep the process moving and find a way to see whether the parties are prepared to move forward. In the end, this is up to the parties.”
“I mean, I want to make this crystal clear: The United States is proud and ready and willing to be a facilitator in this process,” Kerry said. “But the leaders on both sides have to make the decisions, not us. It’s up to them to decide what they’re prepared to do with each other, for each other, for the future, for the region, for peace. And we will do everything in our power.”
Kerry praised US President Barack Obama for his commitment to see the process through, though he added that ultimately it was up to the parties to reach agreement on the difficult issues.
“We’re going to continue to do our work,” Kerry said. “We’re going to continue because this matters – matters to the region, matters to the parties, matters to us, matters to the world.”
“Everywhere I go, people ask me: Is there any progress? Can you get anywhere? Can you move? The one thing that I keep in the center of my mind is that, even tonight, both parties say they want to continue to try to find a way forward. And so we will continue to work with them in order to try to do that."