Monday, May 21, 2018

As Palestinians turn to U.N., peace talks are in limbo

RAMALLAH, West Bank — Israelis and Palestinians began to jostle Wednesday over who should be blamed for the possible collapse of peace talks, even as their representatives met with U.S. officials late into the night to try to keep the negotiations alive.

A day after a major breach, it remained unclear Wednesday night how Secretary of State John Kerry would keep his signature diplomatic effort going.

The Palestinians made formal the steps that Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas announced Tuesday, delivering signed documents that made the Palestinians a party to 15 U.N. treaties. But Palestinian leaders also assured the United States that they wished to continue the peace negotiations.

The Palestinians had earlier promised to stay at the table and not seek recognition at the United Nations during the talks, but a decision by Israel over the weekend to delay or cancel a release of a final batch of 26 Palestinian prisoners triggered the Palestinian action, which have left the peace process in limbo.

"Both sides have taken unhelpful steps over the last 24 hours," a senior State Department official told the Washington Post, referring to the Palestinians' signing of U.N. treaties and an announcement by Israel that it would build 708 housing units in disputed neighborhoods of East Jerusalem.

Kerry canceled plans to visit Abbas in the West Bank on Wednesday, but he spoke by phone with both Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

U.S. diplomats do not want the Palestinians to seek greater recognition for a Palestinian state through the United Nations because they say that, ultimately, any viable sovereign Palestinian state must arise from talks with the Israelis, whose military occupies much of the West Bank and who maintain a naval and land blockade of the Gaza Strip.

Neither side has informed chief U.S. envoy Martin Indyk that they want to quit, according to a U.S. official who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

There was no official word Wednesday from Netanyahu about the Palestinian moves.

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