US says still committed to Israeli-Palestinian peace process despite impasse

Chief PLO negotiator Erekat says Palestinians not seeking to undermine American efforts in Mideast diplomacy; State Department says sides still at negotiating table despite apparent lack of direction.

Kerry, Livni, Erekat press conference 370 (photo credit: REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst)
Kerry, Livni, Erekat press conference 370
(photo credit: REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst)
The United State has not given up on the Israeli-Palestinian negotiating process, although talks seem to have derailed.
Deputy US State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said Friday that the sides were still at the negotiating table, and stressed that Washington was still committed to the process despite the current lack of foresight as to where the diplomatic efforts were leading.
"We are focused on continuing," Harf said during a press briefing. "We are still committed to the process, but as we’ve said many times, we can’t make tough decisions for [the sides]."
"We intend to evaluate precisely what the next steps will be, and see if we can keep making progress here," she added.
While Harf reiterated the US view that both the Israeli and Palestinian sides had made "unhelpful steps" in the past days, the US negotiating team remained on the ground to see if the the parties could take the initiative upon themselves to forge a path toward peace.
Meanwhile, Palestinian chief negotiator Saeb Erekat said Friday that the Palestinians did not intend to undermine American efforts in Middle East peace talks after US Secretary of State John Kerry earlier signaled his patience with the Israelis and Palestinians was running out.
Speaking during a visit to Morocco after a week of setbacks, Kerry said there was a limit to US efforts if the parties themselves were unwilling to move forward.
US officials say Kerry had been blindsided by recent Israeli and Palestinian moves that had compromised undertakings made when they launched the latest round of talks aimed at ending their enduring conflict last July.
"The focus now is we really want to avoid a crash. We don't want to undermine the American efforts, we don't want to undermine Secretary Kerry's efforts, we don't want to undermine president Obama's efforts. Every possible effort is being exerted now in order to make sure that the aim is still the aim, the aim, is to achieve two states on the 1967 (borders) where the state of Palestine can live in peace and security with the state of Israel," Saeb Erekat told reporters on the sidelines of an annual strategic conference in Ramallah.
The negotiations were catapulted into crisis at the weekend when Israel refused to act on a previously agreed release of Palestinian prisoners unless it had assurances the Palestinians would continue talks beyond an initial end-April deadline.
Kerry flew to Jerusalem to try to find a solution. Just when he believed a convoluted deal was within reach, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas signed 15 international treaties, making clear he was ready to beat a unilateral path to world bodies unless he saw more movement from the Israelis.
With both sides looking to blame the other for the impasse, Finance Minister Yair Lapid said he questioned whether Abbas wanted a deal, pointing to a lengthy list of Palestinian demands published on Palestinian news agency Ma'an.
These included lifting a blockade on the Gaza Strip, and freeing a group of high profile prisoners, including Marwan Barghouti, jailed a decade ago over a spate of suicide bombings.
"But at the end of the day, it is really, the decisions will have to be made by Palestinians and Israelis, we have come a long way, we have recognized Israel's right to exist in the 1967 (borders), we have come a long way in peace negotiations but I'm yet waiting to hear one Israeli official, I'm waiting for the prime minister of Israel say that 'I accept the state of Palestinian to exist on the 1967 lines. I accept the state of Palestine to live side by side with the state of Israel in peace and security on the 1967 lines," added Erekat.
A senior Palestinian official, Nabil Shaath, told Reuters that Abbas had not intended to upset Kerry, but rather to shine a spotlight on Israel's failure to release the prisoners.
"I think he will return because we have not abandoned the process. Unfortunately, the Israelis as usual did not implement what the committed themselves to, and we have to take an action telling them we are angry because they did not. But we did not interrupt the negotiations, we will continue these negotiations as we agreed, and I wish for once that America's patience runs out -- with Israel and not the Palestinians," said Nabil Shaath.