U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry seemed to single out Israel’s actions for bringing peace talks with Palestinians to the brink of collapse when he testified before a Senate committee Tuesday.
“Both sides wound out in a position of unhelpful moves,” Kerry said, speaking before the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations.
But the Secretary of State singled out two precipitous moves by Israelis. First, Israel missed a March 29 deadline to release a final round of Palestinian prisoners, as had been previously agreed. Then on April 1, the Israel Lands Authority reissued an announcement for 700 tenders for homes in a disputed area in East Jerusalem.
“The prisoners were not released by Israel on the day they were supposed to be released and then another day passed and another day, and then 700 units were approved in Jerusalem and then poof — that was sort of the moment,” Kerry said, according to The Times of Israel.
In the interim, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas signed 15 treaties with the United Nations. That move, according to Israeli authorities, broke a promise by Palestinians to not pursue statehood while the talks were underway.
“The treaties were unhelpful, and we made that crystal clear to the Palestinians,” Kerry said.
He added that the talks should not be declared dead as long at the two sides indicate they are willing to continue.
Kerry also said, “There are limits to the amount of time the president and myself can put into this, considering the other challenges around the world, especially if the parties can’t commit to being there in a serious way.”
Even if the talks are not dead, focusing on the housing issue will make it difficult to get the talks going again, according to Aaron David Miller, a seasoned Middle East peace negotiator.
“He’ll get no points with it from the Palestinians, rattle Netanyahu’s cage, and make the Israeli political situation more complex by focusing on Israeli building not in the West Bank but in Jerusalem,” Miller told the New York Times.
It seems the housing issue has already complicated the political situation in Israel. Israel’s chief negotiator, Tzipi Livni, accused Housing Minister Uri Ariel of sabotaging the peace effort with the call for the 700 tenders.
The peace talks have not completely fallen apart; they are currently set to continue until April 29. Kerry was scheduled to meet with President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden in the Oval Office later Tuesday to discuss the future of the talks.
Following the Senate hearing, the State Department sought to soften the blow for Israelis who may have felt singled out in Kerry’s remarks.
“As he has been throughout this impasse, today Secretary Kerry was again crystal clear that both sides have taken unhelpful steps and at no point has he engaged in a blame game,” State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said.
She added, “Now it is up to the parties and their leaders to determine whether we maintain a productive path.”