Tags: Israel | Middle East | Israel | Palestine | John Kerry | Netanyahu

NYT: Palestine-Israel Peace Talks End in More Bitterness

Image: NYT: Palestine-Israel Peace Talks End in More Bitterness Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, left, and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu

By Drew MacKenzie   |   Tuesday, 29 Apr 2014 09:25 AM

The deadline for the peace talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority will pass at midnight on Tuesday in a worst-case scenario — with Secretary of State John Kerry attempting to extract his foot from his mouth and the two sides seemingly further apart than ever.

Acting as the U.S. mediator, Kerry had set up a timeline last July of nine months, ending  April 30, to get the Israelis and their Palestinian neighbors to reach a "two-state solution" and finally halt their bitter longtime feuding, The New York Times reported.

Kerry met 34 times with President Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority, and about twice as many times with Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in his efforts to reach a settlement.

The U.S secretary of state crisscrossed the Atlantic while intense talks took place in such far-ranging places as Jordan, Switzerland, London, Munich, Paris, Rome, and, of course, Washington.

In the last few weeks, it looked like the negotiations were about to collapse when Kerry came up with one last plan to extend them beyond the shaky deadline. His proposals included Palestinian autonomy for planning and zoning in Israeli-controlled parts of the West Bank, according to the Times.

Both sides left the table April 22 feeling that peace was no longer a mirage. The next day, Abbas' Palestine Liberation Organization and the Gaza-based Islamist group Hamas, which seeks the destruction of Israel, surprisingly announced that they had reached a unity agreement after years of infighting.

With PLO leaders pictured holding hands with officials from Hamas, the peace talks with Israel were unofficially doomed. The scheduled meeting for the next day between the two sides was canceled, and 24 hours later the negotiations were halted.

Netanyahu said Sunday that Israel would not negotiate with a Palestinian unity government unless Hamas declares that it recognizes Israel. The prime minister also offered to continue with the talks if Abbas went back on its unity agreement and renounced Hamas.

There had been a major stumbling block to peace between Israel and the Palestinian Authority because Netanyahu was wary of angering his country's right-wing faction by cutting back on the settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, the Times reported.

Abbas had quietly been seething over the estimated 13,000 units being erected during the nine months of the negotiations, and may have been seeking to walk away from the deadline with his head held high.

The Palestinian leader never replied to Kerry's final package of proposals, and after nine arduous months of work the pretense of trying to reach an accord was over.

"It's part of the pathology of the Israeli-Palestinian relationship that what one side demands the other side has a predisposition to reject," an American official knowledgeable about the negotiations told the Times. "It's one of the reasons that it's so difficult to sustain negotiations, never mind get an agreement."

Instead of a fragile long-lasting peace, Israeli and Palestinian leaders are now planning to punish each other with a series of measures that could result in the end of the Palestinian Authority, "bringing one of the world's most intractable conflicts to a new low," the newspaper said.

To make matters worse, Kerry possibly created an even bigger rift between the two sides by putting his foot firmly in his mouth when he stated that Israel could become an "apartheid state" if it doesn't reach a peace deal with the Palestinians.

Kerry had launched the talks last July, and may have had the last word, even though he's since apologized for his remarks.

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