U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry appealed to Israelis and Palestinians to put aside their rancor and work out a peace agreement after mediation efforts failed to resolve the conflict over a scheduled prisoner release.
“You can facilitate, you can push, you can nudge, but the parties themselves have to make fundamental decisions and compromises,” Kerry said today at the opening of a strategic dialogue with the Algerian government in Algiers. “The leaders need to lead.”
Palestinians retaliated for Israel’s failure to release 26 Palestinian prisoners yesterday by resuming efforts to win further international recognition of a state of Palestine, over Israeli and U.S. objections. They applied at the United Nations to join 15 international treaties and conventions, in a calibrated bid to protest the stalemate in U.S.-led peace efforts without risking a cutoff in American aid.
To get talks back on track and keep them going beyond the April 29 deadline Kerry set in July, Palestinians are demanding that Israel carry out the overdue release and free an additional 1,000 Palestinian prisoners, Wasel Abu Youssef, a member of the Palestine Liberation Organization’s executive committee, said today.
Kerry said it was premature to judge that the talks had broken down, and said the fine print of the UN applications showed the Palestinians kept a door open. The Palestinians, who say they promised to suspend such efforts in exchange for the prisoner releases, didn’t seek status as a member-state at the world body or any of its agencies.
The Palestinians “may view this strategy as a tool in which they have a little bit of leverage,” an incremental step that “can increasingly put pressure on not only the Israelis but also the Americans,” Yousef Munayyer, executive director of the Washington-based Palestine Center, said in an interview.
Abbas is also seeking support from the 22-member Arab League, which scheduled an emergency meeting for April 9 in Cairo to discuss Israel’s delay in releasing prisoners and the impact on continuing negotiations, the body’s president, Nabil el-Araby, said in a statement yesterday.
Under U.S. law, full statehood recognition before UN organizations would require a cutoff of about $300 million a year in American aid to the Palestinian Authority. Other laws bar U.S. funding for any UN organization that gives the Palestinians statehood rights, which in turn can lead to the suspension of U.S. voting rights for failure to pay dues.
During peace talks, Kerry has pressed Abbas to hold off on pursuing statehood goals at international agencies or filing complaints against Israel with the International Criminal Court.
“This is basically a first shot against Israel that ‘we are renewing the war, we are renewing the battlefield at the United Nations,’’ Einat Wilf, a former member of the Israeli Knesset told reporters yesterday on a conference call organized by the Israel Project, a Washington-based advocacy group. ‘‘It’s still not the heavy gun.’’
The Palestinian Authority gained the right to sign on to multilateral treaties after its status was elevated at the UN in November 2012 to an observer non-member state. It applied to organizations yesterday on behalf of the ‘‘State of Palestine,’’ a status that is under negotiation between Israel and the Palestinians in the talks over a two-state solution.
The list of treaties and conventions submitted yesterday didn’t include the Rome Statute, which would let Palestinians take cases against Israelis to the international court on allegations that the Israeli military committed war crimes.
Israeli and Palestinian negotiators met together overnight until 4 a.m. with the U.S. mediating team in Jerusalem, Kerry said, adding that he plans to call Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas today. ‘‘Neither side can achieve what is wants staying away from the negotiating table,’’ he said.
The latest hurdles provided a new reminder that a final peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians remains a distant hope.
Israel agreed last year to free 104 Palestinian security prisoners in four installments, and missed the deadline for the final releases this week. Israeli officials said they were concerned that Palestinians would break off talks immediately after. Netanyahu told ministers that Israel won’t free the last prisoners unless it’s clearly getting something in return, Army Radio reported on March 30.
The Palestinians aren’t breaking their commitment to the talks by applying to join multilateral treaties and the conventions, which ‘‘will help to protect and promote basic rights of the Palestinian people,” the Palestine Liberation Organization said on its website.
“The State of Palestine is no longer obliged to postpone its rights to accede to multilateral treaties and conventions” because Israel failed to meet its commitment to release Palestinian prisoners, the PLO said, adding that the Palestinians remain committed to continue negotiations until April 29.
Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman said at a Passover season event that “Israel has done all that it can to reach an agreement with the Palestinians and the ball is now in their court.”
“If Palestinians want, they will join,” he said of the applications to international bodies, according to Israel Radio. “If they don’t want, then they won’t join.”