Earlier in the day, Kerry had wrapped up a lightning visit to Israel, planning to return to the region Wednesday in hopes of convincing the Palestinians to extend the faltering talks beyond their April 29 deadline.
But just hours after he left, news emerged that Israel had reissued tenders for hundreds of settler homes in occupied East Jerusalem, just as Washington was to push for a settlement freeze.
Shortly afterward, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas announced a request to join several U.N. agencies, abandoning pledges to refrain from doing so during the months of talks that Kerry kick-started in July.
“We are no longer traveling tomorrow,” a senior State Department official said shortly after Abbas’ announcement. …
Palestinian leaders had repeatedly threatened to resume their action through the U.N. and international courts over settlement expansion in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.
They agreed to refrain from such action during the talks, and Israel in turn said it would release 104 long-serving Palestinian prisoners.
But Israel has refused to release the final batch of prisoners, using it as a bargaining chip to try to extend talks, a move that prompted furious Palestinian officials to warn they would break off negotiations.
The Palestinians gave Kerry a 24-hour deadline Monday to find a solution to the prisoner row, warning that failure to do so would see them turning to U.N. bodies to press their claims for statehood. But late Tuesday afternoon, Abbas announced a request to join “15 U.N. agencies and international treaties, beginning with the Fourth Geneva Convention. “The demands [for membership] will be sent immediately” to the relevant agencies,” he said.