US Secretary of State John Kerry has no immediate intention of pressuring Israel and the Palestinians into resuming the stalled peace talks, and is still determining whether there is a “way ahead” in the process, State Department Spokesperson Jen Psaki said Wednesday.
During her daily press briefing Psaki confirmed that a meeting Tuesday of the Quartet on the Middle East would not produce a critical statement detailing the reasons for the negotiations’ failure. Rather, she said, it was a “regularly scheduled session” and the current focus of international efforts was on “getting the two sides to come up with new ideas and avoid unhelpful steps.”
“It remains in the hands of the parties to take – make the choices necessary if they want to resume discussions,” she continued. “Obviously, there’s a great deal going on in the world, and Secretary Kerry is focused on everything from Ukraine to South Sudan, all the issues we talk about in here every day. But we’re still engaged with the parties and we think that’s an important.”
It had been unclear ever since talks collapsed last month whether the top American diplomat would make public his, and the US administration’s, positions on the breakdown of the talks, although administration officials have been quoted placing much of the blame for the talks’ failure on Israeli settlement policy.
Israel officially suspended peace talks after Abbas agreed a unity pact last month with the Islamist group Hamas, whose charter calls for the destruction of Israel. Before that, Palestinians applied to a series of international treaties in contravention of understandings with the US and Israel, an apparent reaction to Israel’s own refusal to go ahead with a scheduled release of Palestinian prisoners.
Earlier this month, anonymous American officials personally involved in peace talks — peace envoy Martin Indyk presumed to have been among them — provided a harsh assessment to a respected Israeli journalist of why negotiations failed, highlighting Israel’s continued settlement construction as the issue “largely to blame.”
Saying that assessment may as well have come from the US president himself, a senior official told The New York Times last Thursday that the White House had “cleared the interview” with Yedioth Ahronoth’s Nahum Barnea, and that “the critical remarks faithfully reflect the president’s own views.”
The unnamed senior official said that Obama believes that, more than any other factor, Israeli announcements of construction in the West Bank and east Jerusalem throughout the nine months of talks led to the negotiations’ collapse.
“At every juncture, there was a settlement announcement,” said the official. “It was the thing that kept throwing a wrench in the gears.”
Following the abrupt end to the negotiations, and with both sides blaming each other, the US president has instead decided to take a break from the peace process, focusing his administration’s attention elsewhere, the official said, “to let the failure of the talks sink in for both parties, and see if that causes them to reconsider.”
The Obama administration wants to make clear to all sides that “they have a door that’s open,” he said. “If they want to walk through that door, we’ll be there to work with them.”