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Little progress in U.S. Middle East mediating efforts amid Israeli threats

Little progress in U.S. Middle East mediating efforts amid Israeli threats

PanARMENIAN.Net - U.S. efforts to save Middle East peace talks from collapse showed little sign of progress on Monday, April 7 amid threats from Israel to retaliate for what it saw as unilateral Palestinian moves towards statehood, according to Reuters.

The U.S.-brokered negotiations plunged into crisis last week after Israel, demanding a Palestinian commitment to continue talking after the end of the month, failed to carry out a promised release of about two dozen Palestinian prisoners.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas responded by signing 15 global treaties, including the Geneva Conventions on the conduct of war and occupations, on behalf of the State of Palestine, a defiant move that surprised Washington and angered Israel.

The two sides and a U.S. envoy held a "serious and constructive" meeting on Sunday night "to discuss ways to overcome the crisis in the talks" and met again on Monday, U.S. State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki told reporters.

In a statement later about the Monday meeting, she said: "Gaps remain but both sides are committed to narrow the gaps."

Secretary of State John Kerry signaled on Friday he may scale back his intense mediating efforts due to "unhelpful actions" by Israel and the Palestinians, saying it was time for a "reality check" and Washington would re-evaluate its role.

Kerry's comments were a clear acknowledgement that the talks have been going poorly, a signal that there were limits to U.S. patience and a tactical maneuver to force the two sides to decide whether they want to continue negotiations.

Kerry is scheduled to meet with President Barack Obama at the White House on Tuesday, with the state of Middle East peace efforts high on the agenda.

Jon Alterman, director of the Middle East program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies think tank in Washington, said he believed the administration was weighing how to mitigate the risks of a collapse, although he stressed the peace process could still be salvaged.

"It would be irresponsible not to think through what the consequences of a collapse would be, but it's not clear that a collapse is what's going to happen," he said. "Arguably the administration's strategy all along has been to keep things moving just enough so that they don't collapse and it's far from clear that that strategy has completely run its course."

The wrangling attracted little interest on the streets, where Israelis and Palestinians have become inured to decades of conflict and deadlock.

With the approach of the Jewish holiday of Passover, Israel's best-selling newspaper, Yedioth Ahronoth, focused its main headline on the plight of the poor. It carried a report on Sunday's talks at the bottom of page six.

Fewer than 20 Israeli lawmakers showed up for a special debate on the peace process on Monday in the 120-seat Knesset.

"We're all too busy worrying about how to pay bills. Prices have risen and there are very few jobs," said Tareq Younes, a Palestinian barber from a village near the West Bank city of Ramallah.

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