The State Department is denying reports on Monday that Secretary of State John Kerry has ordered the dismantling of his team of Middle East peace negotiators following the breakdown of negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority last month.
The deputy spokesperson at the State Department, Marie Harf, told reporters in Washington on Monday that it was “incorrect” to suggest that Washington was dissolving its team of negotiators in the region.
Harf was responding to questions about reports in the Israeli press over the weekend claiming that American officials held Israel primarily responsible for the collapse in negotiations. According to the Hebrew-language tabloid Yedioth Ahronoth, the Obama administration viewed Israel’s refusal to consider a halt to settlement construction so as to allow for one last chance to salvage the negotiations as a key factor in their failure.
Harf, however, reiterated the official administration position which held that both sides took steps that sabotaged chances of reaching an agreement.
“On the Palestinian side, the appeal to 15 different treaties while we’re actively working to secure a prisoner release, as well as the announcement of the Fatah/Hamas reconciliation agreement at the moment we were working for a formula to extend the negotiations, really combined to make it impossible to extend the negotiations,” she said.
“On the Israeli side, large-scale settlement announcements, a failure to release the fourth tranche of prisoners on time, and then the announcement of 700 settlement tenders at a very sensitive moment, really combined to undermine the efforts to extend the negotiations,” Harf said. “So I would very much take notion with the fact that this was just one side. Both sides did things here that were very unhelpful.”
There were also reports in media outlets that Martin Indyk, Kerry’s top envoy to the peace talks, was set to return to the United States and resume his career at a Washington think tank, though Harf told reporters that the former American ambassador to Israel was in fact returning to the states “for consultations.”