CMEP Bulletin: Dramatic Moves Push Talks to the Brink
Weekly diplomatic update from Churches for Middle East Peace
Tensions escalated quickly this week after Israel decided not to go through with the planned release of Palestinian prisoners. Following a series of dramatic tit-for-tat moves, Secretary of State John Kerry cancelled his trip to Jerusalem and Ramallah and is now stepping back from the peace process he worked to revive, at least until the blame game ends and the parties get serious about negotiating a solution.
When Secretary Kerry managed to restart the negotiations last July, he extracted trust building gestures from both the Israelis and Palestinians. Israel agreed to released 104 Palestinian prisoners from Israeli jails in four waves. Palestinian negotiators agreed to halt efforts for recognition of Palestine in international bodies and not pursue cases against Israel in the International Criminal Court for the duration of the talks. The talks were scheduled to go nine months, ending April 29.
The fourth and final prisoner release did not happen as scheduled on Saturday, March 29, setting off this latest crisis. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he is not willing to release the final wave of prisoners unless there are guarantees that Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas will agree to extend the negotiations through the end of 2014. Despite a last minute trip to the region by Kerry to get Abbas to agree to push back the deadline, Abbas was not swayed.