Israel, Palestinians show desire to continue talks
JERUSALEM (AP) — Israel and the Palestinians angrily accused each other Sunday of undermining U.S.-led peace efforts in the region, but nonetheless signaled their readiness to find a way to revive the faltering talks.
U.S. efforts to extend the talks past a late April deadline were thrown into disarray last week as Israel failed to carry out a planned prisoner release and the Palestinians responded by reviving a campaign for international recognition of the “state of Palestine.”
Still, both sides indicated they were prepared to continue with the negotiations. Israeli and Palestinian negotiators were expected to meet Sunday with U.S. mediator Martin Indyk in a bid to get the talks back on track.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told his weekly Cabinet meeting that “we are ready to continue talks,” while condemning the Palestinian moves. He said a Palestinian state only would come about through negotiations.
“Unilateral steps on their part will be met with unilateral steps on our part,” Netanyahu said. “We are ready to continue the talks but not at any price.”
Saeb Erekat, the chief Palestinian negotiator, also expressed willingness to move forward.
“We are trying to save it. I think there is a mutual interest by all parties,” he told Israeli Channel 2 TV.
Following last week’s breakdown, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry voiced impatience with all sides, saying the U.S. would re-evaluate its role as a mediator.
Israel and the Palestinians returned to the negotiating table in July after a five-year impasse under heavy U.S. pressure, pursuing talks that have yielded no tangible progress.
As part of Kerry’s ground rules for negotiations, the Palestinians promised to suspend efforts to sign up a “state of Palestine” — recognized as a non-member observer by the United Nations in 2012 — in international agencies and conventions. Israel, in turn, pledged to release 104 long-held Palestinian prisoners during the negotiations, with the last of four groups to be freed by late March.
Kerry initially hoped to have a full agreement by April 29, but then scaled back, trying to reach at least a framework deal by the target date.
In recent weeks, he has aimed for an even more modest goal of simply persuading the sides to extend the talks until the end of the year, but even that proved elusive.
Meanwhile Sunday, Israel said its aircraft struck five “terror sites” in the Gaza Strip overnight in response to rocket fire. The military said more than 80 rockets have hit Israel since last month, including a heavy barrage in mid-March from Gaza militants. Hamas, which rules Gaza, said two militant training sites were hit.
Violence between Israel and militants in the coastal strip has increased in recent weeks, after a lull following a 2012 cease-fire.
Meanwhile, Netanyahu issued a statement condemning suspected vandals who damaged the vehicle of a senior army officer in the West Bank. The vehicle’s tires were slashed, the second such incident this year, according to the military.