A senior Palestinian official on Monday accused Israel of using the crisis in the negotiations to shore up its list of demands, as the US continued its intense efforts to end the deadlock in the peace process.
"At the request of the parties, the US facilitated a meeting between Israeli and Palestinian negotiators this evening to continue the intensive effort to resolve their differences," State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said in a statement Monday night.
"Gaps remain but both sides are committed to narrow the gaps."
Psaki told reporters in Washington that its envoy to the region, Martin Indyk, had met Sunday night with Justice Minister Tzipi Livni and Palestinian chief negotiator Saeb Erekat.
“Our focus on this point is on evaluating where we are, and where we might go,” Psaki said. “We’re focused on determining whether the process can move forward.”
Psaki said that the hours upon hours the parties have spent with one another is an “indication of their seriousness.”
“There are certainly parties on both sides that don’t support a peace effort, and have never supported a peace effort,” she added.
Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman is also due to meet with US Secretary of State John Kerry in Washington on Wednesday. Psaki said that Kerry has also been on the phone with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.
Details from the Indyk meetings have not been released, but public statements by Israeli and Palestinian officials indicate that the positions have not budged.
Israel is demanding that the Palestinians rescind their unilateral move of affirming 15 international treaties and conventions, while the Palestinians are insisting that Israel must release 26 prisoners from its jails as promised. relations committees in the House and Senate are in conversation with the State Department to determine whether the 15 applications constitute a violation of the appropriations bill by the Palestinians.
A Democratic congressional aide told The Jerusalem Post that Capitol Hill is already discussing fallout from a potential collapse in the talks, and from Palestinian moves in Geneva and New York.
“There is discussion about what these recent developments mean for US assistance to the Palestinians,” the aide said. “The conventions that the Palestinians joined are not UN agencies, but in the opinion of many on the Hill, the actions violated the spirit of negotiations.”
The Foreign Operations Appropriations Bill of 2014 calls for a cancellation of US aid to the Palestinian Authority should it attempt to “obtain membership in UN agencies.” The bill also restricts aid if the PA attempts to pursue action against Israel at the International Criminal Court.
The US committed roughly $440 million to the Palestinians for 2014, of which $70 million is security and the rest for economic support.
“The process has hit a point where some decisions that have to be made can only be made by the parties, and that it’s a moment where they’ve really got to hear from [Kerry] that he’s willing to walk away if they can’t make those choices,” one senior Obama administration official told the Post on Saturday.
“This is our job,” the official added, characterizing Kerry’s private message to both parties.
“This is what the president wants us to do.”
Senior Fatah official Nabil Sha’ath on Sunday said that the Palestinians have ruled out the possibility that the US would cut off financial aid to the PA, noting that Washington, unlike Israel, has not opposed the decision to join 15 international organizations and treaties.
Netanyahu on Sunday had warned that Israel would take unilateral steps of its own against the Palestinians if they did not rescind their 15 applications. It is expected that if Netanyahu makes good on this threat, Israeli actions would be economic in nature, including withholding tax funds.
Sha’ath said that Abbas is planning to ask the Arab countries during a meeting of the Arab League on Wednesday to compensate the Palestinians in case Israel carries out its threat to impose economic sanctions.
Mohamed Shtayeh, member of the Fatah Central Committee said: “Israel is trying to extend the negotiations beyond the agreed date [April 29],” Shtayeh said. “We say that the extension of the talks is not significant.
What is more important is whether Israel is serious and has good intentions in pursuing the negotiations. Israel should release the prisoners, stop settlement construction and accept the 1967 borders as a basis for a two-state solution.”
Shtayeh, who previously served as member of the PA negotiating team with Israel, spoke out against the package deal that Israel had tried to work out to extend the negotiations, by demanding the release of Jonathan Pollard from an American prison as a pre-condition for freeing the Palestinian prisoners.
As part of this deal Israel would also agree to free 400 more Palestinian prisoners.
Shtayeh pointed out that the PA leadership has demands of its own, including the release of Fatah leader Marwan Barghouti, Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine Secretary-General Ahmed Sa’adat and PA Gen.
Fuad Shobaki. He said the PA is opposed to the deportation of any of the released prisoners.
Shtayeh told reporters in Ramallah that the Palestinians are also opposed to the demand to recognize Israel as a Jewish state. He said this demand is baseless, since the PLO and Israel had mutually recognized each other in 1993.
“The Palestinian people and their leadership have already made a historic concession by accepting a Palestinian state on the pre-1967 lines, which makes up 22 percent of the size of historic Palestine,” Shtayeh said.
He accused Israel of working to scuttle Kerry’s efforts to achieve peace by “announcing new settlement projects, more killings, arrests, house demolitions and violence.”
Referring to Abbas’s latest move, the Fatah official said that the decision to join 15 international institutions and conventions was a “natural right” and not only in retaliation for Israel’s refusal to release the prisoners at the end of March.
Noting that relations between Israel and the PA were now at a turning point, Shtayeh said that the dispute between the two sides is over all issues, including prisoners, Jerusalem, borders and Israeli military presence in the Jordan Valley.
He brushed aside Israeli threats to impose economic sanctions on the Palestinians following Abbas’s move, saying the Palestinians were anyway being punished every day by the presence of the “occupation and its practices.”
Sha’ath said that the Palestinians are unable to make additional concessions “after we already gave up 78% of our lands to Israel.”
He, too, was referring to the PLO’s acceptance of the twostate solution on the basis of the pre-1967 lines.
Sha’ath told the Palestinian Ma’an news agency that the current US-sponsored talks between the Palestinians and Israel were only aimed at extending the peace talks beyond April.
“Even if we return to the negotiating table, we won’t accept a Palestinian state on anything less than the 1967 borders with east Jerusalem as its capital,” Sha’ath said. “We also can’t make more concessions. Isn’t it enough that we already gave up 78% of our land in favor of Israel? We also won’t recognize Israel as a Jewish state.”
Sha’ath said that the PA leadership is planning to pursue its efforts to join more international institutions and treaties.
PA Minister for Prisoners Affairs Issa Qaraqi said that the PA demanded at Sunday night’s meeting the release of 1,200 prisoners in addition to the fourth batch of inmates as a pre-condition for agreeing to the extension of the peace talks.
He said that the PA has also demanded that Israel allow some 30 Palestinians who were deported to Europe and the Gaza Strip after barricading themselves inside the Church of Nativity in Bethlehem more than a decade ago to return to the West Bank.
According to Qaraqi, Sunday’s discussions did not achieve progress because Israel was conditioning the release of the fourth batch of prisoners on Palestinian agreement to extend the talks after April.
A PA source in Ramallah, who asked not to be identified, said that the PA leadership might agree to extend the talks for two months only.
The source told the Palestinian daily Al-Quds that the purpose of the talks would be only to “draw the borders” along the pre-1967 lines.
The source stressed that Abbas would not backtrack on his decision to join international institutions and conventions.