State Dept.: Netanyahu’s P.A. downgrade ‘unfortunate’

WASHINGTON (JTA) — The U.S. State Department spokeswoman called Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s decision to reduce contacts with the Palestinian Authority “unfortunate.”

“We regard it as unfortunate,” Jen Psaki said Wednesday after Netanyahu announced that ministerial contacts between the Israelis and the Palestinians would be suspended because of the P.A.’s application to join international conventions outside the framework of peace talks.

“We believe that cooperation between Israel and the Palestinian Authority has provided benefits to both sides,” she said. “We note that the contact in meetings between the negotiators are continuing, and note that they are engaging in serious and intensive efforts to find a way out of the current impasse. We do consider it very important that security-related cooperation is not affected.”

Secretary of State John Kerry met Wednesday with his Israeli counterpart, Avigdor Liberman.

In brief remarks before the meeting, Kerry did not mention the controversy ensuing from his testimony to Congress earlier this week in which he described the events leading to the current talks breakdown, including Israel’s failure to meet a deadline to release Palestinian prisoners and its announcement of new building in eastern Jerusalem, as well as the P.A.’s application to join conventions.

Instead, Kerry emphasized the close U.S.-Israel relationship.

“Our relationship with Israel, as everybody knows, is an historic and deep one,” he said. “We remain totally committed to the security of Israel.”

An anonymous Israeli official had expressed “deep disappointment” to media outlets at what Israel saw as Kerry’s bid to blame Israel for the crisis, and Liberman in his remarks suggested that it was the Palestinians who were to blame for unilateral actions.

Describing past Israeli concessions in agreements with Egypt, Jordan and the Palestinians, Liberman said, “We are looking for the same positive approach from the other side, and we think that any unilateral steps, they only can undermine all our efforts.”

Psaki in her briefing said Kerry was not blaming one side more than the other in his comments.

“What he did yesterday was simply restate the chronology of events of last week that took place, which ended, of course, with the step by the Palestinians to announce plans to join international conventions,” she said. “So that was the intention of his comments, and he certainly stands by them and was surprised that there was there a view that he was one-sided.”

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