This is all over the wires, and it might be historic. John Kerry, Secretary of State, blamed the Israelis for the breakdown of peace talks during a hearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee yesterday. Israel failed to release prisoners on time according to a deal it had with Palestinians, then announced 700 settlement units– “poof!”– causing the latest breakdown in the talks, Kerry said.
The Times had the story hours ago: “Israeli Settlement Plan Derails Peace Talks, Kerry Says.”
The State Department has already sought to cover for Kerry, saying he meant that both sides are to blame.
Here’s some of the exchange, at 1:17:00 or so at this link. Ben Cardin, Democrat of Maryland, blames the Palestinians for unilateral actions in seeking recognition before international bodies and refusing to recognize Israel as a Jewish state.
The president supports the notion of Israel being defined as a Jewish state. … We believe that should happen. But when it happens and how it happens has to be part of the negotiations obviously. It’s not going to happen in the beginning, senator. It’s going to be one of those narrative issues that gets resolved towards the end.
Ben Cardin gives him pushback on that, and Kerry allows that both sides, inadvertently or advertently, made decisions “that were not helpful.” He says the Palestinian bid for international recognition wasn’t helpful, and then goes on:
In my judgment both leaders have made courageous and important decisions up until now. For Prime Minister Netanyahu to release prisoners is a painful, difficult political step to take, enormously hard, and the people of Israel have been incredibly supportive and patient in giving him the space in order to do that. In exchange for the deal being kept of the release of prisoners and not going to the U.N. Unfortunately, the prisoners weren’t released on the Saturday they were supposed to be released. And so day went by, day two went by day three went by and then in the afternoon when they were about to maybe get there, 700 settlement units were announced in Jerusalem. And poof! That was sort of the moment.
So we find ourselves where we are. My hope is that the parties will find their way back. We’re working with them to try and do so. But they have to again I repeat, they have to make that fundamental decision. And I hope they will. I believe if they do, there is a way to get into substantive discussions now. A lot of groundwork has been laid over the last eight months…. There has been a narrowing of differences.
Thanks to James North.
The New York Times reports that Israel is “deeply disappointed” by what is being referred to as “the poof speech” and is clearly in spin mode.
Clearly stung by Mr. Kerry’s version and his focus on the settlement issue, Israel countered on Wednesday that it was the Palestinians who had “violated their fundamental commitments” by applying last week to join 15 international conventions and treaties.
Mr. Kerry’s remarks “will both hurt the negotiations and harden Palestinian positions,” said an official in the office of the Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, speaking on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the matter publicly.
The Palestinian action came after Israel failed to release a promised fourth batch of prisoners by a late March deadline. Hours before the Palestinians decided on that course, Israel’s housing minister published construction tenders for the contentious new housing.
“Secretary Kerry,” the official in Mr. Netanyahu’s office said, “knows that it was the Palestinians who said ‘no’ to continued direct talks with Israel in November; who said ‘no’ to his proposed framework for final status talks; who said ‘no’ to even discussing recognition of Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people; who said ‘no’ to a meeting with Kerry himself; and who said ‘no’ to an extension of the talks,” .
He added, “At the same time, in the understandings reached prior to the talks, Israel did not commit to any limitation on construction. Therefore, the Palestinian claim that building in Jerusalem, Israel’s capital, was a violation of the understandings is contrary to the facts. Both the American negotiating team and the Palestinians know full well that Israel made no such commitment.”
A Palestinian official close to the negotiations, who also spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the delicate diplomatic situation, said in response that Israel was “undermining the American role in the peace process.” The Palestinian side, he said, “never raised any issue that is not already an Israeli obligation.”
Israel is obliged to stop settlement activity, the Palestinian official said, because it is considered illegal under international law. The Obama administration has described the settlements as “illegitimate.”
Israel’s failure to release the fourth batch of prisoners, the Palestinian official added, violated an American-brokered agreement. As for extending the talks, he said, Israel has so far “clearly shown no interest” in trying to reach an agreement establishing a Palestinian state alongside Israel.