NEW YORK -- US Secretary of State John Kerry said on Tuesday that the Palestinian Authority should recognize Israel as the homeland of the Jewish people. But "it's not going to happen" at this stage of the negotiations, Kerry added.
"The government of the United States and the president supports the notion of Israel being defined as a Jewish state," Kerry told his former colleagues on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. "We believe that that should happen. But when it happens, and how it happens, has to be part of the negotiations. It's not going to happen in the beginning."
Pressed by the Senate panel, Kerry said that the crisis in the talks— perhaps caused by an "inadvertent" spiral of consequential events— was in part caused by a series of decisions made by the Israeli government, during vacillation over whether to release the final tranche of prisoners as promised in the original deal.
Acknowledging the release was a "painful, difficult" and "enormously hard" decision for Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu to make, he said that in the hours after the deadline for the prisoner release had passed, Israeli officials were coming close to an agreement on how to proceed with the release and salvage the talks.
"And then 700 settlement units were announced in Jerusalem and, 'puff.' That was sort of the moment," Kerry said.
The secretary also noted that Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas' decision to initiate applications to 15 United Nations agencies was "clearly unhelpful."
In comment to The Jerusalem Post, State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki rejected the notion that Kerry's remarks on the timing of the settlement units placed the onus of the crisis on Israel.
"Secretary Kerry has been crystal clear that we are not interested in playing the blame game," Psaki said, "that both sides have taken unhelpful steps and that it is up to the parties to determine the path forward."
In his opening remarks to the committee, where he was to discuss the priorities of the State Department for the year as reflected in its annual budget, Kerry said that the peace process between Israel and the Palestinians is an issue "first and foremost among leaders all over the world."
"Everywhere, it has an impact," he said, including "on life in the United States."