John Kerry left Israel on Tuesday, returning to the United States a day earlier than planned and canceling his planned trip to meet with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah, the Washington Post reports. Kerry’s scheduling change—he arrived in Israel on Monday with the goal of resolving the dispute over the release of more Palestinian prisoners from Israeli jails—is in response to Abbas’ threats to derail peace negotiations.
An official familiar with the talks had said earlier Tuesday that negotiators were discussing in broad outline a plan that would require Israel to slow settlement construction and release hundreds of Palestinian prisoners. The Palestinians would in turn agree not to pursue recognition of a Palestinian state or other redress through the United Nations in order to keep alive the hope for a solution negotiated between the two sides.
Yesterday’s reports that the release of Jonathan Pollard, the former naval intelligence analyst convicted of spying for Israel and serving a life sentence, was on the table upped the ante for negotiations, and marked the first sign of potential progress in recent months. Abbas’ unwillingness to participate throws that into jeopardy, though, and Kerry’s abrupt return to the U.S. is intended, no doubt, to send a strong message.
Stephanie Butnick is deputy editor of Tablet Magazine and a host of the Unorthodox podcast.