U.S. President Barack Obama sees Israel as being responsible for the failure of the recent peace talks with the Palestinian Authority (PA), according to a senior official in Washington who was quoted by the New York Times on Friday.
The unnamed official told the newspaper that the president believes that Israel’s announcements of new construction in Judea and Samaria were to blame for the failure.
“At every juncture, there was a settlement announcement,” said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue. “It was the thing that kept throwing a wrench in the gears.”
The official said that Obama has now decided to take a conspicuous breather from the Middle East peace process, in order “to let the failure of the talks sink in for both parties, and see if that causes them to reconsider.”
While the president believes there is time for another American-led peace initiative before he leaves office, the official said, he is determined to wait until Israel and the PA approach the United States with their ideas on how to revive the peace process.
For now, according to the New York Times, Obama has instructed Secretary of State John Kerry to shift his attention to nuclear negotiations with Iran, which are heading into a decisive phase; the crisis in Ukraine; and the longer-term American strategic shift to Asia.
The comments come one week after Martin Indyk, who served as Obama’s envoy to the last failed round of negotiations, also blamed Israel’s “settlement activity” as being the main reason for the failure of the talks.
In an unusually blunt speech to the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, Indyk insisted that both sides were "not serious" about peace, but went on to say blame Israel for purposely torpedoing the talks by announcing new construction.
“I can tell you first hand that that [announcing more building] had a very damaging effect, and by the way it was intended to have that damaging effect,” he said. “The promoters of the settlement activity are the ones who were adamantly opposed to the negotiations even though they were in a government that was committed to the negotiations.”
Indyk said "settlements" posed a “mortal” danger to Israel, leading it into an “irreversible binational reality.”
Deputy Minister Ofir Akunis (Likud) later issued a sharp response to Indyk’s accusations, saying, "There are not two truths here, only one: the Palestinians torpedoed the negotiations by choosing to reconcile with Hamas and take unilateral steps to apply to UN agencies."
Akunis also noted the flaws in Indyk's logic that construction over the 1949 Armistice lines destroyed chances for peace.
"There were no 'settlements' until 1967," he said. "Why didn't the Palestinians extend a hand in peace before that?"
A senior Israeli official later accused Indyk of “hypocrisy”, noting that the American envoy had known construction in Judea, Samaria and eastern Jerusalem would continue during the discussions.
"Indyk comes and blames others without speaking about his own responsibility for the current impasse," the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said.
"(It is) difficult to point to any significant contribution that he (Indyk) had made to the process," he told Reuters.
Throughout the last negotiation period, the PA repeatedly slammed Israel’s planned construction in Judea, Samaria and Jerusalem, despite the fact that it was informed in advance that Israel will continue to build as talks continue. The areas in which Israel plans to build are areas that even the PA has previously accepted will be part of Israel in a future deal.
Kerry at one point said that Israeli announcements of new construction were expected and said that they should not affect the resumption of peace talks.
After the talks failed, Kerry blamed Israel for the failure, citing its “settlement construction” and the fact that it did not release the fourth batch of terrorists.
He later backtracked on those comments, telling Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman that he was not blaming Israel but had merely "described the sequence of events" and the "natural difficulties of discussing such a complex and difficult issue."
(Arutz Sheva’s North American Desk is keeping you updated until the start of Shabbat in New York. The time posted automatically on all Arutz Sheva articles, however, is Israeli time.)