Last ditch attempt to save Israeli-Palestinian peace talks continue

Marathon talks were still ongoing this week in a last attempt to save the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations.

Meanwhile, in Washington, US Secretary of State John Kerry, who put so much personal effort into launching the talks nine months ago, appeared to be placing most of the blame on Israel for their failure.

Speaking at a hearing of the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee on Tuesday, Mr Kerry said that the Obama administration has not given up on the talks but, ultimately, “the parties are going to have to make that decision”.

While initially saying that “both sides” had “wound up in positions where things happened that were unhelpful”, he emphasised the actions of the Israeli government, especially the release of tenders for 700 new settlement homes at a crucial stage in the process.

Even though his spokeswoman tried to explain that he had not been pinning the blame on Israel, the impression of what he said and how he said it — “of the moment” — will linger.

The normally upbeat Mr Kerry looked tired and defeated.

Mr Kerry called the Palestinians’ unilateral request to join international treaties “not helpful” but, contrary to the Israeli narrative, did not portray it as a reason for the derailment of the talks.

Unless Martin Indyk, the US negotiator still in Jerusalem, manages what now seems impossible and gets the sides to agree on a formula to continue the talks, the settlements issue will now serve as a framework for increased international pressure on Israel.

That pressure may not come immediately — US midterm elections, the Ukraine and Syria are all more pressing issues — but it will come.

Neither Jerusalem nor Ramallah are interested in a total breakdown of relations. It could jeopardise Israel’s economic stability, and a third intifada could destroy the PA.

The one way forward is an Israeli settlements freeze — a commitment that the Netanyahu coalition may not survive intact.

Last updated: 5:13pm, April 10 2014