Kerry: Mideast peace process on ‘pause’

The secretary of state was careful to not blame either side for the halt

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The United States was blindsided by a Palestinian deal with a militant group that led to the suspension of Mideast peace talks, Secretary of State John Kerry said Thursday, even as he voiced hope that negotiations would resume after a pause.

With talks on hold, a deadline this week for an agreement to keep the process going became “completely irrelevant,” Kerry told reporters.

Kerry was careful to not blame either side for the halt, and he pointedly listed steps that both Israel and Palestinian leaders took in recent weeks that threw the process into uncertainty.

But he said a deal announced last week for Palestinian authorities to create a unity government with the militant group Hamas - and which spurred Israel to withdraw from peace negotiations - took the U.S. by surprise.

That deal, Kerry said, “came as a complete and total unannounced event, without any heads-up, so to speak, at the moment of important negotiations,” Kerry said at a news conference in the Ethiopian capital. It marked his first comments on the Mideast peace process since the April 29 deadline came and went.

Hamas has called for the destruction of the state of Israel and is considered a terrorist organization by the U.S., European Union and other counties worldwide. However, among Palestinians, the new agreement was hailed as a potentially historic step toward mending the rift that has split their people between two sets of rulers for seven years.

Taking a hard look

Even so, Kerry said that both Israeli and Palestinian leaders have signaled they want to find a way to continue negotiating.

“We believe the best thing to do right now is pause, take a hard look at these things, and find out what is possible and what is not possible in the days ahead,” Kerry said.

Meanwhile, in Tel Aviv, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced he would push for legislation to recognize Israel as a Jewish nation-state - a point that arose during the peace negotiations, and one that the Palestinian leadership said it could never accept.

Kerry did not directly respond to a question in Ethiopia about whether the U.S. was prepared to release its own blueprint for a comprehensive peace plan since Israel and Palestinians failed to come up with their own. But he said he plans to soon release a list of what he described as accomplishments that came out of the last nine months of negotiations, which were carried out mostly in secret.

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