RAMALLAH, West Bank – With the 8-month-old Palestinian-Israeli negotiations entering a state of deadlock, Palestinians spoke Monday about a "paradigm shift" in the U.S.-sponsored peace process.
The talks, which were supposed to produce a peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians by the end of April, hit a stumbling block last week when Israel did not release a group of Palestinians, as promised.
The Palestinian Authority accused Israel of reneging on its agreement to release 104 prisoners in four batches in exchange for a promise that the authority would not pursue plans to join United Nations organizations. Palestinian leaders last week began the process of joining 15 international conventions and vowed to join 48 other U.N. agencies, treaties and conventions.
"Going to the United Nations is a paradigm shift," Mohammed Shtayyeh, a former member of the Palestinian negotiating team, said Monday. "It means that bilateral talks are not the only answer to end the occupation."
Since the setback, Palestinians and Israeli officials have held several rounds of direct negotiations in Jerusalem. One session, Sunday night, lasted six hours. But the talks, attended by U.S. special envoy Martin Indyk, failed to bridge the gap.
A Palestinian source close to the negotiations, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to comment during the talks, said the Israeli delegation has demanded that the Palestinians withdraw the convention documents they signed before Israel would consider releasing any prisoners. Palestinians insisted that Israel should first release the prisoners, freeze any new settlement plans and re-commit to peace talks.
The U.S. described the Sunday talks as "serious" and "constructive."
“Israeli and Palestinian negotiators met last night to discuss ways to overcome the crisis in the talks," said a statement issued Monday. "The meeting was serious and constructive and both sides requested that the United States convene another meeting today to continue the effort."
Shtayyeh insisted that the gap between the two sides has been widening, and he called the signing of international convention documents "irreversible."
The Palestinian Central Council will meet April 26, a few days before the end of the target date for the negotiations, to review the peace process.
"We want to revive our legitimate national institutions," Shtayyeh said. He also hinted at the possible collapse of the Palestinian Authority if the peace process fails and Israeli imposes punitive measures.
Abukhater is a special correspondent.