Jockeying over blame begins at peace talks

RAMALLAH, West Bank — Israelis and Palestinians began to jostle Wednesday over who should be blamed for the possible collapse of peace talks, even as their representatives met with US officials late into the night to try to keep the negotiations alive.

A day after a major breach, it remained unclear Wednesday night how Secretary of State John Kerry would keep his signature diplomatic effort going.

The Palestinians made formal the steps that Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas announced Tuesday, delivering signed documents that made the Palestinians a party to 15 UN treaties. But Palestinian leaders also assured the United States that they wished to continue the peace negotiations.


The Palestinians had earlier promised to stay at the table and not seek recognition at the United Nations during the talks, but a decision by Israel over the weekend to delay or cancel a release of a final batch of 26 Palestinian prisoners triggered the Palestinian action, which have left the peace process in limbo.

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‘‘Both sides have taken unhelpful steps over the last 24 hours,’’ a senior State Department official said, referring to the Palestinians’ signing of UN treaties and an announcement by Israel that it would build 708 housing units in disputed neighborhoods of East Jerusalem.

Kerry canceled plans to visit Abbas in the West Bank on Wednesday, but he spoke by phone with both Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

US diplomats do not want the Palestinians to seek greater recognition for a Palestinian state through the United Nations because they say that, ultimately, any viable sovereign Palestinian state must arise from talks with the Israelis, whose military occupies much of the West Bank and who maintain a naval and land blockade of the Gaza Strip.

Neither side has informed chief US envoy Martin Indyk that they want to quit, according to a US official who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the delicacy of the discussions.


There was no official word Wednesday from Netanyahu about the Palestinian moves.

Israeli opposition leader Isaac Herzog said neither side should walk away. But some members of Netanyahu’s coalition government said the Palestinians should be punished.

‘‘They will pay a heavy price,’’ Tourism Minister Uzi Landau said on Israel Radio.

Kerry had sought Tuesday to play down the severity of the breach and said the immediate goal is to find ways to keep the two sides talking. A senior administration official in Washington said Kerry has gone as far as he can as mediator, absent major decisions by the parties themselves.

Abbas’s announcement Tuesday spelled out a plan to sign letters to allow the Palestinians to become a party to 15 multilateral treaties and conventions administered by the United Nations, a right that he said belonged to the Palestinians after they were granted ‘‘non-member observer state’’ status at the United Nations in 2012.


Abbas said signing the treaties has nothing to do with the peace process and only helps form the basis of a future, sovereign state of Palestine.

The treaties support the rights of women, children, those with disabilities and civilians in wartime. Other protocols deal with genocide, consular relations, and apartheid.

It was not clear whether Abbas’s move was part of negotiating brinksmanship or a fundamental shift away from talks with Israel. The Palestinian leader has been under heavy domestic pressure to abandon the negotiations, especially after Israel reneged on its promise to release the prisoners.