According to U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, Israel and the Palestinian Authority had made progress in overnight talks Wednesday, but the PA tells a different story. A report in the Lebanese Al-Miadian newspaper quoted PA sources as saying that there had been an “unprecedented” loud shouting match between Israeli negotiator Tzippy Livni and PA negotiator Saeb Erekat.
The talks were presided over by US mediator Martin Indyk, who was unable to contain both Livni and Erekat, with both shouting threats and even curses at each other, the report said. Indyk was forced to stop the talks several times in order to give both time to cool off – but to no avail, as the arguing and eventual shouting began almost immediately when the talks resumed.
Livni, the report said, threatened Erekat that Israel would institute sanctions against the Palestinians if the PA walks out of talks. The report did not specify what those sanctions would be, but Israeli analysts said they could include a revocation of work permits for Palestinians, closures of towns and roads, and a crackdown on terror groups.
Erekat, for his part, demanded the release of 1,000 terrorists and a complete building freeze in Judea, Samaria and Jerusalem as the price for the PA's continued participation in the talks. If Israel took action against the PA, the Palestinians would “pursue the Israelis in all international forums and make sure they were branded as war criminals.”
The talks extended until until 4:00 am local time (0100 GMT), at which point Indyk had had enough, said the report.
Speaking Thursday, Kerry said that while progress had been made, between Israeli and PA negotiators, but stressed that "there is still a gap and that gap needs to close fairly soon."
Talks have shown little progress since starting last summer, and began to unravel completely last month when the PA's refusal to recognize Israel as a Jewish state or to extend talks beyond their April 29 deadline prompted Israel to indefinitely postpone the final tranche of 104 convicted terrorists which were to be released in a "goodwill" gesture that was contingent on the progress of negotiations.
Earlier this week, Kerry rushed to the region in a last-ditch attempt to keep the talks going, but was blindsided on Monday by PA chief Mahmoud Abbas's decision to pursue unilateral action by applying for membership in 15 international agencies and threatening to join more if Israel did not release the last group of 26 prisoners, forcing Washington's top diplomat to cancel scheduled talks in Ramallah.
On Wednesday, the PA's UN envoy threatened further unilateral moves, including an application to join the International Criminal Court at the Hague.
In response to Abbas' actions - which breach not only the terms of the current talks but also its previous treaties with Israel - US lawmakers are considering cutting aid to the PA, which receives about $400 million annually from the US.