Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas announced Wednesday that the delegation representing his government in peace talks with the Israeli government has resigned. Abbas said that his negotiators left the peace talks, brokered by United States secretary of state John Kerry, because of continued Israeli settlement-building in the West Bank. Though Abbas also indicated that his government might continue in the talks regardless of whether the delegation returns, possibly by creating a new one, the announcement is a strong blow to the already-frail peace talks, which are plagued by violence and broken promises on both sides.
Last week, Kerry emphasized that the U.S. saw the settlements as "illegitimate." "I want to make it extremely clear that at no time did the Palestinians in any way agree, as a matter of going back to the talks, that they could somehow condone or accept the settlements," he said. But the settlements were part of an internal deal brokered by Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who promised his far-right colleagues thousands of settlement units in the West Bank in exchange for Palestinian prisoner releases, itself a precondition that Palestinian leaders had for any sort of negotiations.
Palestinian chief negotiator Saeb Erekat told Reuters Wednesday that, "In reality, the negotiations stopped last week in light of the settlement announcements last week."
Most countries around the world see Israeli settlement building in the West Bank, understood as Palestinian territory, as illegal; continued building there also makes it less likely that a two state solution can be reached. Right-wing Israeli minister Silvan Shalom said the settlements will continue, but it is just a matter of choosing the right timing for announcing them. "We need the support of the United States on the Iranian issue and have to do our utmost to lower any tensions with it," he said.
Israel has also been blocking progress on nuclear talks with Iran, insisting that every deal reached by the international community doesn't go far enough in addressing the threat to Israel. Netanyahu called the plan under discussion over the weekend a "historic mistake."
Meanwhile, a Palestinian teenager fatally stabbed an Israeli soldier Wednesday, an incident that will surely add fire to the already-volatile talks. And, though Abbas's statements about continued peace talks give a sliver of hope, the negotiators' resignation shows the deep mistrust between the two governments and the disillusionment of the Palestinians with any promises made by Israel.