Sec. Kerry Pushing to Extend Mideast Peace Talks
JERUSALEM, Israel -- U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry will reportedly try to coax Palestinians into extending talks with Israel as the P.A. leader and the Arab world continue to reject Israel as a Jewish state.
Kerry is flying from Italy to Amman, Jordan, on Wednesday to meet with Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas, returning from an Arab League summit in Kuwait on Tuesday.
Kerry is trying to convince the P.A. to continue direct talks with Israel beyond April 29, the last day of Kerry's nine-month timeframe to reach a negotiated settlement.
Israeli leaders are reportedly considering canceling stage four of the prisoner release, set for March 29, made up of 26 convicts serving time for murder and other terror-related crimes if the P.A. doesn't plan to continue direct talks anyway.
According to the Palestinian Authority, Israel would be reneging on its promise to release all of the 104 terror convicts as a goodwill gesture to restart direct talks.
But even Israel's chief negotiator, Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, said there's little point to releasing more convicts if the P.A. has already decided to abandon the U.S.-brokered talks.
Some P.A. leaders said the prisoner release, coupled with a construction freeze in Judea and Samaria, including Jerusalem neighborhoods, may convince them to continue negotiations.
"If Israel were to refuse to free the fourth batch, it would have serious consequences, including initiatives at the United Nations," former P.A. negotiator Mohammed Shtayeh said in a statement.
But Jewish families whose loved ones were killed by Arab terrorists are protesting the release.
Meanwhile, Palestinian leaders continue threatening to seek international recognition for declaring statehood unilaterally rather than through a negotiated settlement with Israel.
Abbas told Arab League member nations at a meeting in Kuwait on Tuesday that Israel had not "missed an opportunity to derail U.S. peace efforts, including raising new demands, such as the demand for recognition as a Jewish state," a concept they reject outright.
"The Israeli government is trying to dodge an agreement it had with the U.S. administration to release pre-Oslo [Accords] Palestinian prisoners," the P.A.'s official Ma'an news agency quoted Abbas.
The Arab League also rejected recognition of Israel as the Jewish nation-state.