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Palestinians: Israel talks proposal is ‘blackmail’

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry returned to the Middle East to try to save the crumbling peace talks

Published: Updated:

The Palestinians described an Israeli proposal to extend the faltering peace talks as “blackmail,” an official in Ramallah told AFP on Monday.

The Palestinian authority said it would not extend the talks beyond April 29 as U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry returned to the Middle East on Monday to discuss the issue.

“Israel is practicing a policy of blackmail and linking its agreement to releasing the fourth batch of prisoners with the Palestinians accepting to extend the negotiations,” the Palestinian official said following a late-night meeting at which the proposal was laid out to chief negotiator Saeb Erakat.

Breaking from his travel schedule for the second time in a week , Kerry returned to the Middle East for the second time in a week.

“After consulting with his team, Secretary Kerry decided it would be productive to return to the region,” State Department Spokesperson Jen Psaki said, according to Reuters.

Last week, Kerry had interrupted a visit to Rome to go to Amman for talks with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to try to convince him to prolong the talks beyond an end-April deadline and to press Israel to release the prisoners.

Officials said he was expected to travel to both Israel and the Palestinian Territories in the coming hours.

Kerry made no statement on his arrival at Tel Aviv’s Ben-Gurion airport. He was due to hold separate meetings later in the day with Netanyahu and Abbas.

Sources close to the negotiations said that an Israeli spy serving a life sentence in the United States and groups of Palestinian prisoners could be freed under an emerging deal to salvage the talks.

By returning to the region, Kerry is indicating either that he believes there is room to save the talks, possibly through a commitment from both sides to extend the negotiations, or to send a message that U.S. patience is not endless.

Kerry was scheduled to attend a NATO ministerial meeting in Brussels on Tuesday and Wednesday, and it was not immediately clear whether he would still be able to make the first day.

Direct Israeli-Palestinian peace talks resumed last July after a three-year break. In the absence of any obvious breakthroughs, Kerry said he wanted a clear framework to enable discussions to continue in the coming months.

Officials have said the two sides remain far apart even on the draft framework. However, the State Department’s Psaki said on Monday the Israelis and Palestinians “have both made tough choices” over the past eight months.

“As we work with them to determine the next steps, it is important they remember that only peace will bring the Israeli and Palestinian people both the security and economic prosperity they all deserve,” she said.

(With AFP and Reuters)