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US calls for 'holding period' after Mideast talks fail
Published Wednesday 30/04/2014 (updated) 02/05/2014 19:06
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A general view taken on April 8, 2014 shows Israeli construction
cranes and excavators at a building site of new housing units in
the Jewish settlement of Neve Yaakov, in the northern area of
East Jerusalem (AFP/File Ahmad Gharabli)
JERUSALEM (AFP) -- Washington called for "a holding period" in the Middle East peace process after a deadline for reaching a deal expired with hopes dashed and Israel and the Palestinians bitterly divided.

US Secretary of State John Kerry has no regrets about the energy he poured into his failed Middle East peace bid and is ready to dive back in again if asked, US officials said.

As the final date for the nine-month negotiation period came and went on Tuesday, peace hopes appeared more remote than ever with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas locked in a tactical game of finger-pointing, and US attempts to broker an extension in tatters.

After more than a year of intensive shuttle diplomacy by Kerry, Washington was reluctant to admit failure, acknowledging only a "pause" in the dialogue.

"The original negotiating period was set to run until April 29th, today. There's nothing special about that date now," State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki told reporters in Washington.

But Kerry has "no regrets about the time he spent investing in this process."

"We've reached a point ... where a pause is necessary ... a holding period, where parties will figure out what they want to do next," Psaki said.

The Israeli and Palestinian leaders were quick to say they were open to resuming talks -- but only under certain conditions likely to be unacceptable to the other side.

"If we want to extend the negotiations there has to be a release of prisoners ... a settlement freeze, and a discussion of maps and borders for three months, during which there must be a complete halt to settlement activity," Abbas said.

But a senior Israeli government official said there would be no further talks unless Abbas renounced a reconciliation pact signed last week with Gaza's Islamist Hamas rulers.

Back to square one

Analysts said the end of the negotiating period meant the situation would simply go back to square one.

"We're back to where we started," said Jonathan Spyer, senior researcher at the Global Research in International Affairs Center near Tel Aviv.

Figures published on Tuesday by settlement watchdog Peace Now showed that in parallel with the negotiations, the Israeli government approved plans for nearly 14,000 new settler homes, describing it as an "unprecedented number."

Meanwhile a mosque was among several Palestinian structures destroyed by the Israeli army Tuesday in a West Bank village for having been built without permits, concurring sources said.

As the curtain fell on the talks, Kerry found himself at the center of a storm after reportedly saying that if Israel didn't seize the opportunity to make peace soon, it risked becoming an "apartheid state" with second-class citizens.

"Apartheid" refers to South Africa's 1948-1994 oppressive and racially segregated social system.

In an apology issued overnight, Kerry said he had never called Israel "an apartheid state" but he did not deny using the term, suggesting only that he used a poor choice of words.

Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erakat accused Netanyahu's government of using the talks as a cover to entrench its hold on the territories.

"Rather than using nine months to achieve a two-state solution, the government of Prime Minister Netanyahu has used every possible tool in order to consolidate its apartheid regime," he said.

In an apparent shift in the US policy, Psaki appeared to suggest that Washington may be prepared to accept a reconciliation government providing it stood by principles such as non-violence and recognizing the state of Israel.

"If the unity government accepts certain principles, then it hasn't been our position to oppose that," Psaki said.

But she stressed: "They haven't indicated a desire to abide by the principles -- Hamas, that is."

However US lawmakers and officials warned Tuesday that Palestinian leaders risk forfeiting millions of dollars in US aid if they press ahead with plans to form a unity government including militant Hamas members.

"Let me be utterly clear about our policy towards Hamas," Assistant Secretary for the Near East Anne Patterson told a House hearing.

"No US governmental money will go into any government that includes Hamas until Hamas accepts the Quartet conditions. And that's renouncing violence, recognizing previous agreements, and most explicitly recognizing Israel's right to exist."
1 ) Cameron / Oz
30/04/2014 10:29
And once that delay is imposed, then the US may just remember to include Islamic Jihad to buy a few more months....

2 ) AKeenReader / UK
30/04/2014 11:37
Rather than admitting failure, as usual US choses to use confusing wording. why not admit the fact which we all know that ie. peace talks failed rather than a pause. It's time that UN makes a binding decision based on previous resolutions. Each party will have to abide by that decision.

3 ) @ Reader-2 / Reality
01/05/2014 15:35
1- Since at any time, one side could surrender to the others demands, there is No Failure, and
2- The UN Can NOT "make a binding decisions", that any "party has to abide by", or it would have long ago, where
[a] Arabs would Not have rejected UNSC Res. #181, and
invaded the newly UN created Jewish State of Israel in 1948, and
[b] North Korea would Not have developed nuclear weapons, and
[c] Iran would Not now be developing nuclear weapons, despite UN calls to halt !!!

4 ) Palestinian Statehood / On Hold & Indefinitely
01/05/2014 15:36
Ever since the PLO started refusing to talk, continued about 10 years ago, and has continued right up to the present, with a few, brief interruptions,

5 ) Tobias / USA
01/05/2014 20:17
World diplomats should admit the "inability to bridge gaps between the two sides", that is now, and will forever remain unbridgable,
which suggests that either
-1- Palestine accept losing claimed lands (& remain just Gaza & Areas A/B), like Ukraine is losing it's state lands to Russia, or
-1- Palestine consider some kind of confederation, like Ukraine is now considering for such lands !!

6 ) Outlier / USA
05/05/2014 19:26
Palestinians should hope the pause is brief. Time has not been the Palestinians' friend and won't be going forward.
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