The US mediator charged with shepherding peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians left the country Sunday night, in a sign of increasingly foundering negotiating efforts between the sides.
The departure of US Special Envoy to the Middle East Martin Indyk is the latest indication that peace talks may have come to a halt after nine months of fruitless negotiations.
Indyk is expected to continue working with the State Department on the peace process from Washington in the coming weeks although it is not known if and when he is to return to the region, the Haaretz daily reported on Monday.
Israel suspended what little remained of peace talks with the Palestinians last week after the Palestine Liberation Organization’s main political component, Fatah, signed a reconciliation deal with Hamas in the Gaza Strip.
Talks were officially slated to end on April 29, but the sides were working toward extending talks before the intra-Palestinian unity deal was struck Wednesday.
Negotiations were left in tatters at the end of March after Israel balked at a scheduled prisoner release and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas applied for membership at 15 international organizations despite committing to not make such a move. Indyk flew into the region in an effort to patch up the differences and keep the peace talks alive.
The pact between Abbas’s Fatah party, based in the West Bank, and Hamas, which seized control of the Gaza Strip in 2007, called for a unity government to be formed within five weeks and presidential and government elections to take place within six months. The deal aimed to end seven years of aggressive division between the two parties.
A rift is developing between Jerusalem and Washington on how to respond to the reconciliation even though both Israel and the US consider Hamas to be a terrorist organization, the Haaretz report said.
The US has indicated it is prepared to continue dealing with a Palestinian Authority led by the unity government as long as it’s overall policy recognizes Israel’s right to exist, rejects violence, and commits to upholding previously signed agreements. However, Israel has said it will not negotiate with a Palestinian government that includes any elements — specifically Hamas — that do not recognize Israel and continue to support terror.
In a television interview on Sunday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that Israel will be looking for alternative paths toward peace with the Palestinians, and insisted that he will not negotiate with any government that is backed by Hamas.
If a negotiated peace proves impossible because of the makeup of the Palestinian government, “then we will seek other ways,” Netanyahu told CNN. “I am not going to accept a stalemate. I won’t accept another Palestinian state that is an Iranian offshoot of Iran, firing missiles in our cities… But I do seek a two states for two peoples solution. If I can’t have it right away with this Palestinian government, then we will seek other ways.”
Meanwhile the European Union urged Israel and the Palestinians to return to the negotiating table, saying US efforts to broker peace must not be allowed to “go to waste.”
“Negotiations are the best way forward,” EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said in response to the breakdown last week in months of efforts by Washington to keep the two sides talking.
Abbas on Saturday said the Palestinian unity government Hamas and Fatah will form as part of their reconciliation deal will recognize Israel and respect its international agreements.
Abbas said that the unity government which he is to lead will be an independent, technocratic government without Hamas or Fatah politicians. He emphasized that it would not deal with the negotiations with Israel.
“That is not its concern, that [falls within] the PLO’s authority,” the PA president said. “At the same time, I recognize Israel and it will recognize Israel. I reject violence and it will reject violence. I recognize the legitimacy of international agreements and it will recognize them. The government is committed to what I am committed. No one should claim now that it’s a government of terror.”
Abbas said, however, that the Palestinians would never recognize Israel as a Jewish state. And Hamas said on Sunday that it would never recognize Israel.
Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.