RAMALLAH, West Bank (AP) — The Palestinians don't want to see U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry's troubled Mideast peace mission fail, but will no longer feel bound by his ground rules if Israel fails to live up to its commitments, the chief Palestinian negotiator said Friday.
Earlier Friday, Kerry chided both sides for taking steps "that are not helpful" and said the Obama administration is reevaluating its Mideast initiative.
Kerry said the Israeli-Palestinian peace talks cannot continue to occupy so much of his time if Israelis and Palestinians are unable to take even minor steps toward making the negotiations successful.
As part of Kerry's ground rules for negotiations, the Palestinians promised to suspend efforts to sign up a "state of Palestine" — recognized as a non-member observer by the United Nations in 2012 — in international agencies and conventions. Israel, in turn, pledged to release 104 long-held Palestinian prisoners during the negotiations, with the last of four groups to be freed by late March.
Kerry initially hoped to have a full agreement by April 29, but then scaled back, trying to reach at least a framework deal by the target date. In recent weeks, he seemed to settle for trying to win agreement on the terms of extending the talks until the end of the year, but even that proved elusive.
His efforts ran into serious trouble this week, as Israel failed to release the last group of prisoners on time. In response, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on Tuesday signed letters seeking Palestine's accession to 15 international conventions. Israel responded Thursday, saying it would not release the last group of prisoners.
Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said Friday that the next Palestinian move depends on Israel.
"We signed 15 (conventions), but there are still 48 treaties, conventions and agencies that we have not signed yet," he told journalists. "If the Israelis release the 30 prisoners, we are committed not to join these agencies, treaties and conventions, but if they (the Israelis) don't, we have a free hand."