US Secretary of State John Kerry said yesterday that Washington was evaluating whether to continue its role in Middle East peace talks, signaling his patience with the Israelis and Palestinians was running out.
Speaking during a visit to Morocco after a week of setbacks, Kerry said there was a limit to US efforts if the parties themselves were unwilling to move forward.
"They say they want to continue, neither party has said they have called it off, but we are not going to sit there indefinitely," Kerry said, adding that he would return to Washington to consult with the Obama administration.
The negotiations faltered over the weekend when Israel refused to act on a previously agreed release of Palestinian prisoners unless it was assured the Palestinians would continue talks beyond the end-of-April deadline.
Kerry flew to Jerusalem to try to find a solution. Just when he believed a convoluted deal was within reach, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas signed 15 international treaties, making clear he was ready to beat a unilateral path to world bodies unless he saw more movement from the Israelis.
A senior Palestinian official, Nabil Shaath, said Abbas had not intended to upset Kerry, but rather to highlight Israel's failure to release the prisoners.
"I think [Kerry] will return because we have not abandoned the process," said the negotiator, speaking in Ramallah, the Palestinians' administrative capital in the West Bank.
"We will continue these negotiations as we agreed, and I wish for once that America's patience runs out with Israel and not the Palestinians," he added.
With both sides looking to blame the other for the impasse, Israel's centrist finance minister, Yair Lapid, said he questioned whether Abbas wanted a deal, pointing to a lengthy list of Palestinian demands published by the Maan news agency.
These included lifting a blockade on the Gaza Strip and freeing a group of high-profile prisoners including Marwan Barghouti, jailed a decade ago over a spate of suicide bombings.
Kerry has spent much of his first year as America's top diplomat invested in the Middle East peace process. He twice left his current trip in Europe and the Middle East to see Israeli and Palestinian leaders in an apparent effort to salvage the negotiations.