LONDON — Sources close to the Israeli-Palestinian talks said Israeli, Palestinian and U.S. negotiators are set to meet late Wednesday in an attempt to put the peace talks back on track.
A senior State Department official says Washington is keeping up efforts despite "unhelpful steps" taken by both sides in the past day.
The official said Secretary of State John Kerry spoke separately Wednesday with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.
The official also told reporters in Brussels that "neither party has given any indication they want to end the negotiations." The source did not say where the low-level talks will be held.
A surprise decision by Abbas on Tuesday to sign more than a dozen international conventions that could give Palestinians greater leverage against Israel left the United States searching for a way to keep the talks alive past an April 29 deadline.
Abbas' move came as Kerry's mediation efforts appeared in trouble. The secretary of state had set an April 29 deadline to reach basic outlines of an Israeli-Palestinian deal, but in recent weeks has pushed to extend the talks until the end of the year.
Palestinian officials have said Israel offered to show "restraint" on settlement building, including suspending government tenders for new construction, if talks are extended into 2015.
But the Israeli anti-settlement group Peace Now said such offers are largely meaningless because thousands of settlement apartments have already been planned or are under construction.
The Palestinians seek a complete settlement freeze if negotiations are to be extended.
Israel Tuesday renewed a call for contractor bids on more than 700 homes in Gilo, an Israeli settlement in East Jerusalem.
The Palestinians, along with much of the international community, view settlement construction as illegal and an obstacle to the creation of their hoped-for state. Israel has built dozens of settlements, now home to more than 550,000 Israelis, on occupied lands.
Both Abbas and Netanyahu face opposition within their own cabinets to the U.S.-mediated talks and the concessions they could lead to.
After Abbas’ announcement Kerry, who has been dogged through many difficult trips to the region cancelled plans for another visit.
The moves put on public display the problems negotiators have been having behind closed doors for the past eight months, since Kerry initiated the talks.
“The prospects in the medium term, over 2014, of a final status agreement are pretty bleak,” said Jordan Perry, the principal Middle East analyst at the Maplecroft consulting firm in Oxford.
“Secretary Kerry has made clear in recent days…that he feels he’s gone really as far as he can in terms of being a mediator between the Israelis and the Palestinians,” he said. “They now have to bridge this impasse.”
That view was reflected by a senior State Department official traveling with the secretary in Europe, who said “Ultimately it is up to the parties to take the necessary steps if they really want to go forward.”
But senior lecturer Amnon Aran of London’s City University doesn’t expect much.
“It seems to me that they have been engaging a bit in a charade, all of them,” he said.
Aran said the Israeli and Palestinian leaders have engaged in the talks so as not to anger Kerry and President Barack Obama, not out of a real willingness to deliver the difficult concessions needed to make peace.
Aran said this is a rare opportunity to make peace, with Israel motivated by the fast-rising Palestinian population and growing international anger at its decades-long occupation of the West Bank.
At the same time, Aran said the Palestinians are motivated by the desire of a new generation to be freed from the restraints of occupation and statelessness.
But Aran said while leaders on both sides understand the situation, they and their supporters, and especially their opponents, are not yet ready to act accordingly.
“It has not yet been internalized,” he said. “Actually this episode is different in so far as if there is a collapse there may not be another chance, certainly not another chance under similar favorable circumstances.”
Kerry said he has not given up.
“[It is] completely premature to draw any judgments about this at this point in time,” he said. “There are a lot of different possibilities in play.”
He sounded a hopeful note even after Tuesday’s Palestinian announcement and a change in travel plans.
Kerry has already twice reduced the goal he set last year – from reaching full agreement by the end of this month, to just reaching a framework accord, down to extending the deadline beyond this month.
Now if he resumes his shuttling between Jerusalem and Ramallah the goal will be simply to save the talks, analysts say, and the slim chance they have of achieving a peace that has eluded diplomats for decades.