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Kerry returns to Israel-Palestine as peace talks near collapse
Published Monday 31/03/2014 (updated) 01/04/2014 09:45
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A protester wearing a gas mask walks with a Palestinian flag
during a demonstration against the expropriation of Palestinian
land by Israel in the village of Kafr Qaddum, near Nablus in the
occupied West Bank on March 9, 2012 (AFP/File Jaafar Ashtiyeh)
JERUSALEM (AFP) -- The PLO rejected an Israeli proposal for extending negotiations on Monday as Washington's top diplomat was due to fly in on his latest mission to salvage the crisis-hit peace talks.

Shortly after US Secretary of State John Kerry took off from Paris for an unscheduled visit to Israel-Palestine, a Palestinian official confirmed that Ramallah had rejected an Israeli offer to extend talks beyond an April 29 deadline.

US peace efforts are teetering on the brink of collapse after Israel refused to free a group of 26 veteran Palestinian prisoners under an agreement which brought the sides back to the negotiating table in July 2013.

Speaking in Paris, a senior US official said Kerry would possibly hold meetings in Jerusalem and the West Bank town of Ramallah over Monday and Tuesday.

Kerry's arrival in Tel Aviv is likely to coincide with a 7:00 p.m. meeting of the Palestinian leadership in Ramallah which was called by president Mahmoud Abbas to discuss the latest standoff.

Furious Palestinian officials have warned that unless Israel changes its stance on the prisoner releases, it could signal the end of the talks.

News of Kerry's unscheduled trip was confirmed by US State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki, who said his team had been working with both parties to "agree on a path forward."

"After consulting with his team, Secretary Kerry decided it would be productive to return to the region," she told reporters in Paris shortly before departing for Tel Aviv.

Washington has been fighting an uphill battle to coax the two sides into accepting a framework proposal which would extend the negotiations beyond April 29 to the end of the year.

But the question of extending the talks has become intricately tied up with the fate of the 26 prisoners.

Just a day ahead of the expected releases, Israel said it would not free detainees convicted of deadly attacks unless the Palestinians would commit to extending the negotiations.

But the Palestinians say they will not even discuss any extension of the negotiating period unless Israel frees the prisoners.

The impasse has triggered "intense" US efforts to resolve the dispute, with Kerry speaking with both sides earlier on Monday.

Israel's 'blackmail policy'

Ahead of Kerry's arrival, a Palestinian official told AFP the leadership had rejected an Israeli proposal to resolve the dispute that was laid out at a meeting of the two negotiating teams in Jerusalem on Sunday night.

"Israel made a proposal which was refused by the Palestinians," he said.

"Israel is practicing a policy of blackmail and linking its agreement to releasing the fourth batch of prisoners with the Palestinians accepting to extend the negotiations," he said.

In exchange for Palestinian agreement to continue the talks, Israel had offered to free the fourth batch of detainees and to release another 420 others.

But that number would involve only common law criminals and not sick detainees, women or children. And it would not include political heavyweights.

And although the Israelis were offering a partial settlement freeze in the West Bank, it would not be extended to annexed East Jerusalem, nor would it cover construction where tenders had already been published.

"The Israeli proposal aims to continue the negotiations indefinitely, without any results, in parallel with continued settlement building," he charged, saying such policies posed a "real danger" to the peace process.

On Sunday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the fate of the US-brokered peace process would likely be sealed within the coming days, telling ministers: "Either the matter will be resolved or it will blow up."

And he said any deal to extend the negotiations would have to be put to the cabinet.

Also on Sunday, Kerry said the US would reserve judgement on the issues but that the time to make decisions was at hand.

"We'll see where we are tomorrow (Monday) when some judgments have to be made," he said.

It will be Kerry's first visit to Israel-Palestine since early January, although he has held face-to-face meetings with both Netanyahu and Abbas in Europe and the United States.

He also met Abbas last week in Amman.
1 ) AKeenReader / UK
31/03/2014 17:08
Usual diplomatic rubbish from State department spokesperson. Palestinians should stop all negotiations and go to plan B. No more time wasting as US nor Israeli govts can be trusted. I hope that Palestinians do not submit under pressure.

2 ) Tibi / Tubas
31/03/2014 18:12
THERE IS NO "PATH FORWARD", where two states can not exist on one land, and this stupid pretense of talking about the states on one land will never make it happen, no matter how many, if any, prisoners are released.

3 ) JoeUSA / USA
31/03/2014 21:15
Bibi , what is going to blow up is more than the peace talks. The who status quo is unacceptable and you will be held responsible for the ongoing unacceptable status quo.....

4 ) Brian Cohen / Israel
31/03/2014 21:30
"Peace talks near collapse." "Window is closing" "Time is not on our side" blah blah blah. heard it all before from leaders who don't have the leadership to make peace. Sad to say, but Abbas will have to go and maybe there will be progress with his replacement. Can Dahlan do it? Rajoub? Anybody else out there who isn't committed to violence (like Barghouti, who is staying in jail)? Diplomacy may fail again, but Palestinians should know by now that violence won't work. Just look north and west.

5 ) Alexander / USA
31/03/2014 23:55
"Piece process' continues while peace process stops Peace process will start when piece process stops.

6 ) End Talks, And / Forever Occupation
01/04/2014 00:13
- Israel's government can not change its stance on the prisoner releases, (or the government will have to begin early elections, so an even more right-wing government can be elected), so the - Palestinian Authority government must change its stance, or it will be: -1- the End of the Peace & Statehood Talks, and -2- the End of any realistic hopes for creating a Palestinian State, and -3- the Poverty & "Occupation" Without End !!!

7 ) Realities / UN
01/04/2014 01:02
Shortly after talks collapse, Palestine will collapse, but not before taking many UN committees down with it, for every committee foolish enough to accept "Palestine" will lose the major funding sources of the USA, Canada !!

8 ) Martin Edwin Andersen / USA
01/04/2014 06:25
For a new approach that would enable restarting the sputtering Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, please see my "Common lands, common ground: The indigenous agenda, Israel, Palestine and breaking the post-Oslo Accords logjam," a realistic proposal with a strategy that is unimpeachable given what the Israelis call "facts on the ground." I am hoping that it contributes to what is needed -- getting enough people from both sides to understand that, unless new ways of thinking are employed, the carnag

9 ) Israel will pay ANY PRICE / for the release of
01/04/2014 08:06
POLARD. They gave 1004 prisoners for ONE GILAD SHALIT (a coward tankist who surrenedererd without fight while his other friends DIED) the should give 4000 prisoners for someone who sacrificed his life for ISRAEL's SECURITY!
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