In a surprise move that could derail US peace efforts, Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas has resumed a campaign for further international recognition of a state of Palestine, despite a promise to suspend such efforts during nine months of negotiations with Israel.
After Abbas' announcement on Tuesday, US Secretary of State John Kerry cancelled yesterday's scheduled plan to return to the Middle East, but also said it was "completely premature" to write off the Israeli-Palestinian peace talks he restarted in late July.
"We are continuing, even now, to be engaged with both parties," Kerry said. "We urge both sides to show restraint while we work with them."
There was no immediate Israeli comment. However, Abbas' decision threw into doubt Israeli claims that a deal was emerging that would have extended Israel-Palestinian talks beyond an April 29 deadline.
It remained unclear whether Abbas' dramatic announcement was a negotiating tactic or signalled a fundamental shift in strategy.
In a hastily convened ceremony televised live from his West Bank headquarters, Abbas signed applications for Palestinians to join 15 international treaties and conventions.
Abbas said he was compelled to act because Israel had failed to carry out a promised release of Palestinian prisoners by the end of March.
At the same time, Abbas said he was not seeking a confrontation with the US and wanted to "reach a peaceful solution through negotiations" with Israel. A senior aide, Nabil Abu Rdeneh, later urged the international community to pressure Israel to release the prisoners, indicating the Palestinians might reverse course in that case.
Kerry had nudged Israelis and Palestinians back to the table in July. The target was a framework deal on the terms of a Palestinian state alongside Israel.