Last-ditch efforts between Israeli and Palestinian negotiators to save the floundering peace talks ended with no breakthrough on Sunday night, Palestinian sources told AFP.
"The crisis continues. During the whole meeting, the Israelis threatened the Palestinians and no solution to the crisis was found," AFP quoted a Palestinian official as saying. The remarks came after US envoy Martin Indyk met with Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat and Israel’s negotiator, Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, in hopes of finding a way to break the impasse.
Earlier Sunday, the Palestinian Authority dismissed Israel’s threat to unilaterally act against it in response to the PA’s application last week to join 15 international treaties and conventions.
“The Israeli government has sabotaged the peace process by embarking on unilateral moves,” said Nabil Abu Rudaineh, spokesman for PA President Mahmoud Abbas.
Some Palestinians, such as PLO Executive Committee member Wasel Abu Yusef, warned that preparations were underway to apply for membership in additional international treaties and agencies.
The statements were part of the escalating verbal blame game that has erupted in the past week, with the peace process appearing to be on the verge of collapsing.
In the morning, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu issued a stern warning to the Palestinians about the 15 applications and any future steps the PA might take outside the negotiating process to shore up legal standing as a state.
“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 in Jerusalem.
“The Palestinians have much to lose by this unilateral move [the 15 applications].
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,” Netanyahu said.
Appearing to address the prime minister, Erekat told Army Radio in response: ”Why are you threatening us as if we are sending suicide bombers to Tel Aviv?” On Monday, the Knesset, at Meretz’s request, is scheduled to hold a special plenum meeting to discuss the crisis in the peace talks.
US Secretary of State John Kerry is also expected to be speaking in the coming days with President Barack Obama about future involvement in the process should the deadlock continue.
Bassam al-Salhi, secretary- general of the Palestinian People’s (Communist) Party, called for ending Washington’s exclusive sponsorship of the peace talks.
He said it was high time that Russia, China and the EU played a role.
“The US-sponsored talks repeatedly fail not because of Israel’s positions, but because of US bias in favor of Israel,” Salhi said.
Both Israelis and Palestinians have publicly blamed each other for starting the crisis and failing to take steps to fix it.
Israel is angry over the Palestinian affirmation of 15 international treaties and conventions and has asked the PA to rescind its applications.
The Palestinians are upset because Israel delayed and then canceled the promised release of 26 prisoners jailed for past involvement in terror attacks. Israel said it delayed the release in hopes of reaching a package deal to allow the negotiations to continue for an additional nine months past their end date of April 29.
Netanyahu told his cabinet: “The Palestinians substantially violated the understandings that were reached with American involvement. The Palestinians’ threats to appeal to the UN will not affect us.”
In a statement issued in Ramallah, the PA’s Foreign Ministry launched a scathing attack on Israel for refusing to release the prisoners.
“The Palestinian side took the decision [to join the institutions and treaties] after the Israeli decision to defy the US administration by refusing to release the fourth group of prisoners,” the statement charged. “Had Israel released the prisoners and fulfilled its obligations, it would have spared us this artificial crisis.”
Strategic Affairs Minister Yuval Steinitz told Army Radio that if the Palestinians rescinded the 15 applications, apologized and agreed to continued talks, Israel would consider freeing the 26 prisoners. But PLO Executive Committee member Abu Yusef said it was “unreasonable” to believe that the PA leadership would backtrack. The applications had already been sent to the relevant bodies, he said.
The Palestinian daily Al-Quds quoted unnamed sources as hinting that the PA leadership was prepared to return to the talks once the prisoners were freed. But Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman, speaking Sunday at the Jerusalem Post Annual Conference in New York, said he would rather bring down the government.
Netanyahu told his cabinet that Israel had worked hard to achieve peace with the Palestinians.
“In recent months the State of Israel has conducted negotiations with the Palestinians in order to reach a peace agreement.
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 [Abbas] hastened to declare that he is not prepared even to discuss recognizing Israel as the national state of the Jewish people,” the prime minister continued. “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.”
But the Palestinian Authority’s Foreign Ministry on Sunday accused Israel of acting against the peace process since negotiations were reignited at the end of July.
“Israel is a state that occupies the land of another people by force,” a ministry statement said. “Israel is practicing against the Palestinians all forms of violence and collective persecution and denying them a dignified life.”
The ministry said the “occupation state has not halted construction in the settlements even for one day and destroys houses and expels Palestinians from their homes, especially in Jerusalem.” It also accused Israel of assassinating and arresting Palestinians and setting fire to their holy sites. “The practices of the state of occupation are real war crimes,” the ministry said.
In turn Netanyahu said that Israel wanted to live in peace with the Palestinians.
“Israelis expect peace, a genuine peace, in which our vital national interests are assured, with security first and foremost,” he said.
Reuters and Jpost.com staff contributed to this report.