Are the Mideast Peace Talks on Life Support?

Secretary of State John Kerry said that discussions continue, but a surprise announcement underscores the uphill battle to reach an agreement.

John Kerry speaks at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee̢۪s (AIPAC) annual policy conference at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center in Washington, DC, May 5, 2009.
2009 AFP
Jordain Carney
April 1, 2014, 1:29 p.m.

The Middle East peace talks aren’t of­fi­cially dead, but a sur­prise move Tues­day has worsened its pro­gnos­is.

Sec­ret­ary of State John Kerry can­celed his Wed­nes­day trip to meet with Palestini­an Au­thor­ity Pres­id­ent Mah­moud Ab­bas, after the Palestini­an lead­er re­newed his bid for state­hood on Tues­day by sign­ing pa­per­work to join 15 in­ter­na­tion­al agen­cies.

U.S. and Is­raeli of­fi­cials have stressed that Palestini­ans shouldn’t use the agen­cies, and by­pass the U.S. fa­cil­it­ated talks, to gain state­hood. 

Ab­bas said at a sign­ing ce­re­mony Tues­day that he doesn’t want to “col­lide” with the United States, but that the de­cision was in re­sponse to Is­rael not re­leas­ing a fourth round of pris­on­ers as sched­uled. 

Kerry’s an­nounce­ment to re­port­ers in Brus­sels that the meet­ing had been called off marks a quick turn­around from re­ports earli­er Tues­day that a deal to ex­tend ne­go­ti­ations was likely to be an­nounced this week.

A seni­or State De­part­ment of­fi­cial told The Wash­ing­ton Post that the deal Kerry had planned to an­nounce would have in­cluded Palestini­ans agree­ing to not press for of­fi­cial state­hood through the United Na­tions. The deal would have also called for Is­rael to re­lease pris­on­ers and curb hous­ing con­struc­tion.

The Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion was also re­portedly con­sid­er­ing re­leas­ing Jonath­an Pol­lard, an Is­raeli spy cur­rently serving a life sen­tence, as part of the peace talks. 

Ab­bas’s de­cision is the latest bump in the per­petu­ally tur­bu­lent talks to re­solve the long-stand­ing is­sue. The two sides have un­til the end of April to reach a frame­work for mov­ing for­ward, and Kerry stressed that the pro­cess isn’t over.

“All I can tell you is that we are con­tinu­ing, even now as I am stand­ing up here speak­ing, to be en­gaged with both parties to find the best way for­ward,” he said.

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