The U.S.-brokered negotiations plunged into crisis last week after
Israel, demanding a Palestinian commitment to continue talking after
the end of the month, failed to carry out a promised release of
about two dozen Palestinian prisoners.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas responded by signing 15 global
treaties, including the Geneva Conventions on the conduct of war and
occupations, on behalf of the State of Palestine, a defiant move
that surprised Washington and angered Israel.
Both sides met on Sunday night "to discuss ways to overcome the
crisis in the talks," a U.S. official told Reuters. Palestinian
sources said they would meet again Monday evening.
The wrangling attracted little interest on the streets, where both
Israeli and Palestinians have become inured to decades of conflict
With the approach of the Jewish holiday of Passover, Israel's
best-selling newspaper, Yedioth Ahronoth, focused its main headline
on the plight of the poor — carrying a report on Sunday's talks at
the bottom of page six.
Fewer than 20 Israeli lawmakers showed up for a special debate on
the peace process on Monday in the 120-seat Knesset.
"We're all too busy worrying about how to pay bills. Prices have
risen and there are very few jobs," said Tareq Younes, a Palestinian
barber from a village near the West Bank city Ramallah.
The peace talks, which began in July, have stalled over Palestinian
opposition to Israel's demand that it be recognized as a Jewish
state, and over settlements built on occupied land Palestinians seek
for a country of their own.
An Israeli official described the Sunday meeting as "business-like"
without elaborating. A Palestinian official said his side had
submitted conditions for extending the talks beyond the original
April 29 deadline for a peace deal.
Palestinians have said the signing of the international treaties
last week was a natural progression after the U.N. General
Assembly's de facto recognition of a Palestinian state in 2012.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, at a cabinet meeting on
Sunday, promised retaliatory measures — which he did not specify — in response to the signings.
A senior official in Abbas's Fatah party, said the Palestinians
wanted a written commitment from Netanyahu's government recognizing
a Palestinian state within all of the territory in the West Bank and
Gaza Strip that Israel captured in the 1967 Middle East war, with
East Jerusalem as its capital.
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Israel has described those West Bank borders as indefensible and
considers East Jerusalem as part of its capital, a claim that is not
recognized internationally. Israel pulled out of the Gaza Strip, now
ruled by Hamas Islamists, in 2005.
In addition, the Fatah official said, Palestinians were demanding a
cessation of settlement activity and a prisoner release.
Palestinians fear settlements, viewed as illegal by most countries,
will deny them a viable state and have condemned a series of Israeli
construction projects announced while talks have been under way.
Stung by his diplomatic setback, just as a complex deal for the
negotiations' extension was emerging, U.S. Secretary of State John
Kerry has said the United States was evaluating whether to continue
its role in the talks, accusing both sides of taking unhelpful
A monthly peace index, last published in March by the Israel
Democracy Institute and Tel Aviv University, found 69 percent of
Israelis "somewhat don't believe" or "don't believe at all" that the
negotiations will lead to peace.
A poll conducted last month in the West Bank and Gaza Strip by the
Palestinian Center for Policy and Research showed that about
three-quarters of those surveyed believed chances for establishing a
Palestinian state in the next five years are "slim or non-existent".
(Additional reporting by Noah Browning in Ramallah)
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