Two State Alert: Amid sound and fury, the latest on the Kerry initiative

April 1, 2014

The last 24 hours have seen conflicting reports over Secretary of State Kerry’s efforts to resolve a crisis in the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations. Right now, we still don’t know whether he will succeed.

Here is what has happened:

Kerry arrived in Israel late last night to negotiate the details of a three-way deal to extend peace talks beyond next month’s deadline.

He met twice with Prime Minister Netanyahu, and once with the Palestinian negotiating team. Officials quoted in the US and Israeli media said the deal under consideration contained the following elements:

The Palestinians will agree to extend the negotiations by a year and avoid unilateral moves at the United Nations. The US will release Jonathan Pollard, who is serving a life sentence after pleading guilty to passing classified US military information to Israel. Israel will release a previously promised fourth group of Palestinian prisoners which will include 14 Israeli Arab prisoners. Israel will select another 400 Palestinian prisoners to be released. Israel will freeze most construction in the settlements, with the exception of East Jerusalem.

After convening the PLO leadership this evening in Ramallah to discuss the proposal, President Abbas announced that he had signed papers to join 15 international agencies, citing Israel’s “failure” to carry out the Palestinian prisoner release on schedule. We do not yet know which entities Abbas took steps to join or whether the papers have been officially delivered. Both these factors and others will have significant bearing on the overall impact of Abbas’ actions today.

Israeli officials said Abbas’ step is an attempt to exert last-minute pressure on Israel and the United States to improve the Palestinian side of the deal.

In a press conference, Kerry urged both sides to show restraint and said that it was “completely premature” to draw judgement from the day’s events. He added that Abbas had given him his word that talks would continue until the end of April. “None of the papers Abbas signed were for the UN,” he said.

As events continue to unfold in this high-stakes poker game, our message remains clear: this conflict can only be resolved through negotiations resulting in two states for two peoples. Kerry’s peace initiative offers a way forward. If Israelis and Palestinians are to ever know true peace and security, their leaders must not allow this moment to pass them by.