With little, if any, tangible signs of progress over the course of eight months of talks, the initial goal of a comprehensive deal was scaled down to an outline of what such an agreement would look like. If the talks do collapse, it would be a huge disappointment to Kerry and could be seen as a foreign policy failure for the administration.
The Obama administration even took the unprecedented step of allowing the possible release of convicted American spy Jonathan Pollard, who is serving a life sentence for selling U.S. military secrets to Israel, to be used as an inducement to get Israel to release some Palestinian prisoners. Every president since Ronald Reagan has refused Israel’s request to release Pollard.
Over the past several weeks, the more modest goal of a framework accord was scaled down even further as Kerry and his team focused on getting the two sides to merely agree to extend the timeframe for the talks. That aim was put into serious jeopardy when Israel over the weekend refused to release a group of Palestinian prisoners they had said they would free as part of the agreement to resume the talks.
“They say they want to continue,” he said of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. “But we are not going to sit there indefinitely. This is not an open-ended effort. It’s reality check time.”
After meeting Abbas last week in Jordan, Kerry flew to Israel from Paris on Monday to meet with Netanyahu in a last-ditch bid to keep the talks afloat. He then flew to Brussels to attend a NATO meeting on Ukraine on Tuesday but planned to return to the Mideast on Wednesday to see Abbas again.
That plan was cancelled when Abbas on Tuesday said that in retaliation for Israel refusing to release the prisoners, the Palestinians would seek greater international recognition by signing up to 15 U.N. treaties and conventions, something they had said they would not do while the negotiations were in progress.