Israel will take unilateral steps of its own if Palestinians continue to shore up their statehood bid outside the confines of a negotiated agreement, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu warned on Sunday.
“Unilateral steps on [the Palestinians’] part will be met with unilateral steps on our part. We are ready to continue the talks but not at any price,” Netanyahu told his cabinet before the start of their weekly meeting.
He spoke as the nine-month negotiating process due to expire on April 29th appeared to be on the verge of falling apart without any measurable success or plans for future talks.
US envoy Martin Indyk is due to meet today with Israeli negotiator Justice Minister Tzipi Livni and Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat in hopes of finding a way to break the impasse.
US Secretary of State John Kerry is also expected to be speaking in the coming days with US President Barack Obama about their country’s future involvement in the process should the deadlock continue.
Both Israelis and Palestinians have publicly blamed each other for the crisis in the negotiations. Israelis are angry over a Palestinian decision last Wednesday to affirm 15 international treaties and conventions.
Palestinians are upset that Israel delayed and then canceled the promised release of 26 Palestinian prisoners jailed in Israel for past involvement in terror attacks.
Each believes that the other side was the first one to break the terms under which the nine month negotiating process has been held.
“The Palestinians substantially violated the understandings that were reached with American involvement. The Palestinians' threats to appeal to the UN will not affect us. The Palestinians have much to lose by this unilateral move. They will achieve a state only by direct negotiations, not by empty statements and not by unilateral moves. These will only push a peace agreement farther away,” said Netanyahu.
"In recent months the State of Israel has conducted negotiations with the Palestinians in order to reach a peace agreement,” Netanyahu said.
“During these talks we carried out difficult steps and showed a willingness to continue implementing moves that were not easy, in the coming months as well, in order to create a framework that would allow for putting an end to the conflict between us,” said Netanyahu.
“Just as we were about to enter into that framework for the continuation of the negotiations, Abu Mazen hastened to declare that he is not prepared even to discuss recognizing Israel as the national state of the Jewish people, which we have made clear to both the President of the United States and to other world leaders as well.
“To my regret as we reached the moment before agreeing on the continuation of the talks, the Palestinian leadership hastened to unilaterally request to accede to 15 international treaties,” said Netanyahu.
He affirmed his desire for a peace deal with the Palestinians. “Israelis expect peace, a genuine peace, in which our vital national interests are assured, with security first and foremost,” Netanyahu said.
Livni told Channel 2 on Saturday night that Israel delayed the release of 26 Palestinian prisoners for a few days in hopes of concluding a larger agreement that would have extended the talks for another nine months.
She said the Palestinians understood that Israel was delaying, not canceling, but that they moved forward anyway for their 15 applications.
Nabil Abu Rudaineh, spokesman for PA President Mahmoud Abbas, said that the Palestinians reject Livni's statements.
"As head of the Israeli negotiating team, Livni knows that the Israeli-Palestinian-American agreement envisaged the release of the prisoners in return for not going to international organizations for nine months," Abu Rudaineh said.
Abu Rudaineh held the Israeli government responsible for the current crisis in the peace talks by pursuing settlement construction and refusing to release the prisoners.
He said that Livni also knows that Abbas remains committed to "real and serious negotiations that would lead to a just and comprehensive peace resulting in the establishment of an independent Palestinian state with east Jerusalem as its capital."
The spokesman said that the US and the international community "appreciate President's Abbas position and consider him a true and serious peace partner."