In blow to Kerry, Israel freezes peace talks

 

The Israeli government voted Thursday to freeze talks with the Palestinians, dealing a potentially fatal blow to Secretary of State John Kerry's hopes to broker a framework peace deal.

According to The Associated Press, Israel's Security Cabinet voted unanimously to cut off contact during a five-hour meeting.

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The vote was a response to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas's announcement Wednesday that he would move to form a unity government with Hamas. The reconciliation drew protests from both the U.S. and Israel, who consider the Gaza-based organization a terrorist group.

The State Department had warned the move by the Palestinians could "seriously" impact the faltering peace talks. The U.S. had hoped to strike a deal for a framework plan by next week, the end of an initial nine-month negotiating window brokered by Kerry.

"This could seriously complicate our efforts — not just our efforts, but the efforts between the parties, more importantly, to extend the negotiations, as evidenced by the announcement by the Israelis to cancel the negotiating meeting this evening," State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said.

Hamas has previously rejected recognition of the state of Israel and some of the previously brokered agreements.

Secretary of State John Kerry spoke with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on Thursday morning, Psaki said.

Kerry relayed that he was “disappointed" by the reconciliation announcement and he reiterated that a unified Palestinian government must commit to non-violence, recognize Israel’s existence and accept previous agreements and obligations.

Kerry and Abbas also “discussed efforts underway between Israelis and Palestinians to extend negotiations,” Psaki said.

Asked if this development scuttles the chance for an extension of peace negotiations, Psaki said, “It’s up to them. Obviously, as I said yesterday, the timing of the announcement was unhelpful in terms of reaching an extension. There’s no question about that.”

The two leaders decided to remain in touch, Psaki added, and U.S. Special Envoy Martin Indyk remains on the ground in Israel to monitor the situation.

Before the announcement from the Israelis, Psaki said any hope at keeping the process alive relied on Palestinian leadership providing assurances that they would commit to non-violence.

"I think that the ball, at this point, is in the Palestinians' court to answer these questions as to whether this reconciliation, whether these principles would be met through that process that have been long established," Psaki said.

She also insinuated the move could affect U.S. assistance to the Palestine Liberation Organization, a point reiterated by senior administration officials in an interview with Reuters.

"Any Palestinian government must unambiguously and explicitly commit to non-violence, recognition of the state of Israel, and acceptance of previous agreements and obligations between the parties," the U.S. official said.

"If a new Palestinian government is formed, we will assess it based on its adherence to the stipulations above, its policies and actions, and will determine any implications for our assistance based on U.S. law."

The peace talks between Israel and Palestine deteriorated earlier this month when the Palestinian leadership submitted applications to 15 separate international treaties.

That move came after Israeli leaders had refused to release a final batch of Palestinian prisoners who they had agreed to free as a precondition to the Kerry-brokered peace talks.

Rebecca Shabad contributed.

— This story was updated at 2:30 p.m.