Israeli and Palestinian negotiators were to meet separately Friday with US peace envoy Martin Indyk, a Palestinian source said, a day after five hours of three-way talks failed to bring agreement.
Indyk was due to hold talks with chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat in the West Bank city of Jericho from 08:00 GMT, the source said, but he had no details of the US-Israeli meeting and Israeli officials did not respond to requests for information.
Thursday’s talks, in a Jerusalem hotel, were “very difficult,” the source said. “The gap… is still wide.”
Officials in Jerusalem said Friday that no progress had been made in peace talks that took place between Israeli and Palestinian negotiators the night before, and that the two sides would meet again next week after the Passover holiday.
State Department spokeswoman Jennifer Psaki said this week that Israeli and Palestinian negotiators are striving to reach an agreement to extend their peace talks beyond the April 29 deadline.
But commentator Nahum Barnea, writing in the Yedioth Ahronoth daily on Friday, likened the almost nine months of talks, into which Secretary of State John Kerry coaxed the sides, to prolonged “mutual torture.
“Kerry keeps them going like a gambler in a casino, who insists on putting his money on the roulette wheel, in the hope that the wheel will stop on his number at some point,” Barnea wrote.
“He believed that he would reach a peace agreement; then he limited himself to a framework agreement; he later limited himself even further to an American proposal for a framework; and then just to ideas.
“In the end, the entire prestige of the United States is invested in a marginal, questionable deal, which will only prolong the mutual torture.”
Washington is pushing for an extension, but the negotiations hit an impasse two weeks ago when Israel refused to release a group of Palestinian prisoners as agreed at last year’s launch of the talks.
Under the agreement, Israel had committed to freeing 104 prisoners held since before the 1993 Oslo autonomy accords in four batches, but it cancelled the release of the last group of 26.
Among them are 14 Israeli Arabs who the Jewish state is refusing to set free.
According to Israel Radio, the Palestinians are adamant in their demand that all 26 prisoners be released, but Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has refused to concede on the issue of releasing the Israeli Arab terrorists. The head of the Shin Bet security service advised Netanyahu to release the 14 Israeli Arab prisoners in question and deport them to the Gaza Strip or abroad, the report said, but Netanyahu said he would not act in a way that may endanger Israeli citizens.
The Palestinians retaliated by seeking accession to several international treaties.
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas told Israeli opposition MPs visiting him in the West Bank city of Ramallah on Wednesday that if talks were extended, he would want the first three months “devoted to a serious discussion of borders,” Haaretz newspaper reported.
The Palestinians want a state based on the lines that existed before Israel occupied the West Bank and Gaza in the 1967 Six-Day War.