A meeting between Israeli and Palestinian negotiators on Monday night in Jerusalem ended with little progress in advancing stalled peace talks, according to a US official.
With American intermediary Martin Indyk present, it was the latest in a string of encounters that both sides say reflect their interest in pushing on with talks.
In a statement issued after the meeting, US State Department Spokeswoman Jen Psaki said, “Gaps remain but both sides are committed to narrow the gaps.”
Psaki told reporters earlier Monday that a meeting between the sides on Sunday evening “was serious and constructive, and both sides requested that the United States convene another meeting today to continue the effort.”
Monday’s meeting came as US Secretary of State John Kerry scrambled to rescue negotiations he had kick-started in July. He is scheduled to discuss the status of Middle East peace talks with President Barack Obama at the White House on Tuesday, according to Reuters.
Army Radio reported overnight Monday that Kerry would meet with Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman, who is currently in the US, on Wednesday.
That meeting is sure to be frosty, as Liberman on Sunday rejected the possibility of returning to a tripartite deal that last week was saddled with the hopes of salvaging talks, before it fell apart.
The floated package deal between Jerusalem, Ramallah and Washington had stipulated that Israel would release a fourth and final round of Palestinian prisoners, along with hundreds of other prisoners of Israel’s choosing, in exchange for the extension of peace talks until the end of 2014 and the release of convicted Israeli spy Jonathan Pollard by the United States in time for Passover eve.
The Palestinians, however, said the 27 prisoners in the fourth round – among them 14 Arab Israelis – would have to be released before an extension could be discussed, as Israel had pledged months ago to free them. In return, the Palestinians had sworn not to make any unilateral appeals to international bodies. Once it was clear that Israel would not release the prisoners, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas made a unilateral move that threw the peace talks into disarray — a televised application to 15 international treaties on behalf of the Palestinian state.
Liberman said Sunday that he and his party, Yisrael Beytenu, would prefer new elections to going ahead with the “grand bargain” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was ready to approve last week.
Kerry has warned there are “limits” to the time and energy the United States can devote to a process that appears to have made no progress amid bitter recriminations and moves Washington has described as “unhelpful.”
Warning that the peace process was on the edge of collapse, an Israeli official close to the talks said Monday that “even Kerry” — the effort’s indefatigable sponsor — was “cooling off.”
“The way it’s looking now, the talks as they were several weeks ago are no longer relevant,” the source told Israeli news website Ynet.
“Israel is preparing to return to routine dealings with the Palestinians as they were before the negotiations started nine months ago. We are noticing a real coolness in the way the Americans are treating (the peace process), and it’s obvious that today’s Kerry is not the same Kerry from a few weeks ago,” the official added.
A second official, however, said Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, Israel’s chief negotiator, deserved another shot to resolve the crisis. “We have to wait a few more days… A lot of efforts are being done to salvage the situation,” the official said.
Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said earlier Sunday that it was up to Netanyahu to “stand tall,” and agree to negotiate based on pre-1967 lines.
“I don’t think it’s in the interest of Israel to have a crash, it’s absolutely not in our interest to have a crash, it’s not in the interest of the US,” Erekat told Israel’s Channel 2 on Sunday, adding that the sides were “trying to save” the peace talks.