Fast-moving developments in the Middle East peace process veered toward a breakdown Wednesday, reported The Jerusalem Post. The latest crisis emerged after Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas defied the United States and Israel by taking concrete steps to join 15 international agencies in moves to gain the benefits of statehood outside the negotiations process, violating one of the conditions of the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations.
Abbas’s actions surprised American and Israeli officials, as he had promised not to seek membership in international bodies until the April 29 expiration of the talks that Secretary of State John Kerry engineered last summer. Any Palestinian pursuit of the international agency membership is widely considered to be a poison pill for the peace talks.
The move by Abbas caused Kerry to cancel a planned Wednesday visit to the region. Kerry had expected to complete a fast-evolving agreement in the coming days extending negotiations through 2015.
In that developing deal, the United States would release Jonathan Pollard, an American convicted of spying for Israel more than 25 years ago and currently serving his life sentence, while Israel would free over 400 Palestinian prisoners and slow down construction of Jewish settlements in the West Bank.
That proposed deal has also been met by strong resistance within Israel, and could lead to a coalition crisis as some of PM Netanyahu’s coalition partners have already publicly slammed the proposal.
Abbas said he was taking this course because Israel had failed to release a fourth batch of long-serving Palestinian prisoners by the end of March, as promised. But sraeli officials said they are not bound by their pledge because the prisoner releases were contingent on negotiations moving forward, and no meaningful negotiations have taken place since November.
American officials tried to put a positive spin on the developments, saying that the Palestinians appeared to be using the move as leverage against Israel rather than trying to scuttle the negotiations completely. It was noted that Abbas did not move toward joining the International Criminal Court, the step Israel worries about most because the Palestinians would be expected to use the court to contest Israel’s presence in the West Bank.
Still, some American officials said Kerry’s decision not to return to the region immediately reflected a growing impatience in Washington with the entire process. There is a growing sense that his mediating efforts have reached their limit and that the two opposing sides need to work their way out of the current impasse themselves.