Little Optimism as Israel, PA Hold Separate Talks with US Envoy
Israeli and Palestinian negotiators met separately Friday with US peace envoy Martin Indyk, a Palestinian Authority (PA) source said, a day after five hours of three-way talks failed to bring agreement.
Indyk first met chief PA negotiator Saeb Erakat in the city of Jericho, but no details of their talks were given.
Israeli officials did not respond to requests for information, but media reports said a new tripartite meeting could be held in the coming days.
The previous day's talks, held in a Jerusalem hotel, were "very difficult", the PA source said, adding: "The gap... is still wide."
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 an April 29 deadline.
But commentator Nahum Barnea, writing in Yediot Aharonot daily on Friday, likened the almost nine months of talks which Secretary of State John Kerry coaxed them into to prolonged "mutual torture".
"Kerry keeps them going like a gambler in a casino who insists in putting his money on the roulette wheel, with 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 last month when PA officials stated that they were only participating in the talks in order to see Israel free a group of PA terrorist prisoners as agreed at last year's launch of the talks.
Israel had committed to freeing 104 prisoners held since before the 1993 Oslo accords in four batches, but following the incendiary statements, it cancelled the release of the last group of 26. The PA insists that the last batch must include 14 terrorists who are Israeli citizens, bu Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has not agreed to this condition.
The PA retaliated by seeking accession to several international treaties.
PA chief Mahmoud Abbas told Israeli opposition MPs visiting him in 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.
Israel announced 9 days ago that it would freeze the transfer of taxes to the PA, suspend participation with the PA to develop a gas field in the sea off of Hamas-controlled Gaza, and put a cap on PA deposits in Israeli banks.
These sanctions followed other punitive measures and sanctions that Israel took against the PA after it unilaterally applied to join 15 international conventions in breach of the conditions of the peace talks.
Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman, in a meeting with ambassadors, blamed the PA for the rapid deterioration in the peace process.
"We were very close to an agreement with the Palestinians, a complex transaction which was being examined by the (Israeli) cabinet, but at the last moment the Palestinians broke their promises and submitted applications" to join international treaties, he charged.