A surprise decision by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to sign more than a dozen international conventions giving Palestinians greater leverage against Israel left the US struggling yesterday to put peace talks back on track.
The documents Abbas signed, officials said, included the Geneva Conventions — the key text of international law on the conduct of war and occupation.
Palestinians hope it will give them a stronger basis to appeal to the International Criminal Court and eventually lodge formal complaints against Israel for its continued occupation of lands seized in the 1967 war that they want for their state.
US Secretary of State John Kerry, who had been piecing together a complex three-way deal to push the faltering negotiations into 2015, canceled a visit to Ramallah planned for yesterday after Abbas’ dramatic move late on Tuesday.
“We urge both sides to show restraint while we work with them,” Kerry told reporters in Brussels, where he was attending a ministerial meeting of NATO.
Palestinian officials signaled the new crisis could be short-lived if Israel made good on its pledge to release more than two dozen long-serving Palestinian prisoners. Israel has said it first wants the Palestinians to agree to extend the talks beyond an April 29 deadline.
Kerry said that Abbas, after signing the international agreements, had told a meeting of the Palestine Liberation Organization leadership that he would remain in touch with the Americans.
“The important thing is to keep the process moving and find a way to see whether the parties are prepared to move forward. In the end, this is up to the parties,” Kerry said.
A spokesman for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declined to comment on Abbas’ move.
Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Zeev Elkin, a hardliner in Netanyahu’s right-wing Likud party, said Abbas’ latest step had turned the proposed talks-extension deal into a farce.
Meanwhile, Israeli Tourism Minster Uzi Landau said the Palestinian action could push Israel to annex territory in the occupied West Bank.
“If they are now threatening [to go to UN institutions], they must know something simple: they will pay a heavy price,” the minister told public radio.
“One of the possible measures will be Israel applying sovereignty over areas which will clearly be part of the State of Israel in any future solution,” said Landau, a member of the hardline Yisrael Beitenu faction.
Israel could also hurt the Palestinians economically by acting “to block financial aid to them,” he added.
The talks veered toward this latest crisis on Saturday last week when Israel did not release the fourth and final batch of prisoners it had agreed to free as part of an accord that led to the revival of negotiations in July after a three-year break.
Palestinian officials said the failure to let the prisoners go meant Abbas no longer had to stick to his commitment not to confront Israel at the UN and other international bodies.
“America must compel Israel now to follow through on its agreement to release the fourth group of prisoners. We will be watching these efforts and hope they don’t fail,” Palestinian Prisoners Affairs Minister Issa Qaraqe said.
“But our position is clear: we want the release of the fourth group according to the agreement, and without that we won’t accept any other obligations or conditions,” he said.