US Secretary of State John Kerry on Tuesday canceled plans to travel on Wednesday to Ramallah for a meeting with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. The announcement of the cancellation came shortly after Abbas made a public display of signing applications for Palestinian admission to 15 United Nations bodies.
A Palestinian official said on Tuesday night that Palestine had signed applications to join treaties on human, civil, disabled and women’s rights. The first document Abbas signed was the Fourth Geneva Convention, sources in the Palestinian Authority said. A Fatah official quoted by the PA’s Wafa news agency said that although Abbas didn’t sign applications for the International Criminal Court and the International Court of Justice, applying for membership there would be the next step.
Despite canceling Wednesday’s meeting, Kerry said it was too early to write off the latest round of talks in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, and State Department officials said that the US negotiating team, led by Martin Indyk, was still on the ground in Israel.
“It is completely premature tonight to draw any kind of judgment, certainly any final judgment, about today’s events and where things are,” Kerry said in a press conference in Brussels, Belgium. “It’s at moments like this when we all need to remember exactly what brought us to this effort in the first place, what the goal is, and where everybody wants to end up.”
The Palestinians said the public unilateral move to sign the applications was prompted by Israel’s decision to condition the release of a fourth group of Palestinian prisoners held in its jails on an agreement to extend the peace talks beyond their April 29 deadline.
A Palestinian source said that the applications for membership in the UN bodies had been signed but not sent out, leaving open the option that they could be scrapped if Israel moved quickly to free a fourth group of Palestinian prisoners, Israel Radio reported.
Kerry stressed that Abbas had given him his word that he would continue to negotiate at least until the deadline for the conclusion of peace talks, which were restarted in July with Kerry as chaperon.
But he said that while Washington was “proud and ready” to go on mediating the Israeli-Palestinian diplomatic process, “facilitation is only as good as the willingness of leaders to make actions to put in front of them.”
“With respect to the Middle East peace process, we have certain things we are trying to figure out in terms of logistics on the ground,” he said.
With the future of the talks in the balance, there have been persistent reports of a deal brewing that would see the talks extended in exchange for the release of hundreds more Palestinians prisoners along with US-Israeli spy Jonathan Pollard.
On Tuesday night Kerry said that since the Israeli cabinet still hadn’t voted on the matter, an agreement had yet to be reached on the release of “any” prisoners — a reference to both Pollard and Palestinian and Israeli Arab prisoners held in Israel.
In Washington, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said the White House, too, hadn’t made a decision on the proposal to release Pollard.
“There are obviously a lot of things happening in that arena and I’m not going to get ahead of where we are. The president has not made a decision to release Jonathan Pollard,” Carney said.
An official close to the negotiations said earlier Tuesday that Kerry was close to a deal that would rescue the faltering Mideast peace talks. The deal would not include a freeze on construction in Jewish settlements in the West Bank as the Palestinians have demanded but would envisage Israel committing to show “great restraint” and not issue new housing tenders.
The Palestinians gave the emerging proposal a cool reception, saying it fell far short of their demands for a complete halt to settlement construction and the freeing of 1,000 prisoners of their choosing.
The Israeli Prime Minister’s Office would not comment Tuesday night on Abbas’s signing of the applications for membership in the UN bodies.
Times of Israel staff, AFP and AP contributed to this report.