JERUSALEM — Israeli and Palestinian negotiators planned to meet with an American mediator Monday for the second straight day in an effort to salvage the Middle East peace talks, which were pushed to the brink of breakdown last week.
A statement from the US Consulate in Jerusalem described a session Sunday night as “serious and constructive.” It said the negotiators, Tzipi Livni for the Israelis and Saeb Erekat for the Palestinians, had asked the Obama administration’s envoy, Martin S. Indyk, for another round.
The meetings followed Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s statement Sunday that he wanted the talks to continue “but not at any price.” Both Israeli and Palestinian leaders have made it clear that although they broke commitments last week that they made when they started the negotiations last summer, they still considered themselves bound by the original timetable and therefore have until April 29 to find a way out of the crisis.
Netanyahu said Sunday that Israel would take its own “unilateral steps” in response to the Palestinians’ move last week to join 15 international treaties and conventions and reiterated that a Palestinian state could be created “only through direct negotiations, not through empty statements and not by unilateral moves.”
The Palestinians said they took the contentious step only because Israel reneged on a promise to release a group of long-serving prisoners by the end of March, breaking its own commitment as part of the negotiations.
Muhammad Shtayyeh, a senior Palestinian official who resigned as a negotiator in the midst of the current talks, said Monday that Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’ application to join the international entities was “irreversible” and represented a “paradigm shift” in which Palestinians would pursue other options in parallel with bilateral negotiations. But he, too, suggested that there could yet be a way out of the crisis.
“We are keeping the door open for any serious talks,” he said at a briefing in Ramallah. “We have time between today and the 29th of April. If the Israeli side is serious, we are ready for that.”
Shtayyeh said Palestinians want to separate the issues of the release of the promised fourth batch of prisoners from that of extending the timetable for the talks. He said extending negotiations would require either a freeze on construction in West Bank settlements or the Israeli presentation of a map outlining the future borders of the promised two states.