Secretary of State John Kerry says talks in the Mideast peace process faltered after Israel last month refused to release prisoners as Palestinian leaders demanded, and then moved forward with new construction in a settlement.
“Both sides, whether advertently or inadvertently, wound up in positions where things happened that were unhelpful,” Kerry said in Senate testimony Tuesday. “Then in the afternoon when they were about to maybe get there, 700 settlement units were announced in Jerusalem, and poof, that was sort of the moment. We find ourselves where we are."
Moments earlier, he also acknowledged Palestinian moves toward winning statehood that also violated terms of the negotiations.
Israel responded by saying it was “deeply disappointed” with Kerry’s remarks. The New York Times speculates the dispute could be growing into an “open quarrel” between the United States and Israel.
In a sign that the sides were still far from reconciled, Israel on Wednesday directed its government ministers and senior ministry officials to refrain from meeting with their Palestinian counterparts, a move that officials said could delay bilateral projects.
The ban on contacts does not apply to the negotiators, and Israeli officials signaled that coordination between the two sides on security issues would continue. But it was intended to send a message that there would be no business as usual.
Joshua Landis, the Director of the Center for Middle East Studies at the University of Oklahoma, says American foreign policy is still based on a two-state solution with 1967 borders, even though Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu openly says that’s not an option.
“America keeps on telling them, ‘Well, we can't want peace more than you want it.’,” Landis says. “It's too painful to try to come up with a different basis for peace talks. Obviously that's going to have to happen at some point.”
Kerry said both sides claim they want the talks to continue, but Landis says backpedaling and a lack of clarity about what the U.S. wants hurts the Obama administration as midterm elections approach.
“It looks bad for Kerry because it's not only Israel,” Landis says. “It's Syria and it's Ukraine, and people like McCain and others are taking him to the woodshed and saying, 'This is a trifecta of loss. You're losing on every one of these things.'”
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