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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