The Palestinians have done all the legal work necessary to join 63 U.N. agencies, conventions and treaties, but have not yet applied for membership, mainly to give the latest U.S. peace effort a chance to succeed, chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said Monday. And on Tuesday, Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, who has been tasked with coordinating peace talks with the Palestinians, said the Palestinian Authority was planning to apply as a state to 16 international organizations if peace talks with Israel did not resume by June. Last year, Israel suffered a significant diplomatic defeat when the United Nations General Assembly overwhelmingly voted to give "Palestine" nonmember observer state status.
Briefing the members of the influential Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee on Tuesday on her recent talks with Secretary of State John Kerry, Livni said there were positive signs in the recent Arab League declaration of interest in renewed peace talks, and that Israel could not afford to remain in a vacuum.
Livni said it was "no secret" that there were serious divisions inside the Israeli cabinet on the Palestinian issue and the shape of its eventual outcome, but the Israeli government's official policy was to advance negotiations with the Palestinian Authority with the goal of a final-status agreement and establishing two states for two peoples.
However, MK Orit Struck (Habayit Hayehudi) disputed Livni's assertion, saying the two-state solution "was not the government's official policy and is not in the coalition agreements. And this is no coincidence. It is perhaps [Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu's policy."
Committee Chairman Avigdor Lieberman told Livni that all the assessments before the Oslo accords and Gaza disengagement had proved wrong, and that there was no magic solution to the conflict with the Palestinians, which, in current circumstances, could be managed but not solved. Livni retorted that even those who wanted to manage the conflict should be interested in a resumption of talks.
Erekat said Monday that the Palestinians had done "everything" to enable U.S. President Barack Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry to succeed, and "there is a good opportunity now."
Kerry returned to the region Tuesday morning to resume efforts to kick-start Israeli-Palestinian peace talks and to seek a solution to the ongoing Syrian civil war that threatens to engulf the region in violence. Kerry will first meet the sultan of Oman, Qaboos bin-Said al-Said, and on Wednesday he will fly to Jordan to meet with King Abdullah.
On Thursday, Kerry will arrive in Israel, where he is expected to meet with Netanyahu and Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, who is leading Israel's negotiation efforts with the Palestinians. Kerry will also travel to the West Bank.
On Tuesday, Haaretz reported that Kerry personally telephoned Israel's ambassador in Washington to ask for clarification on the government's announcement last week that it was looking to retroactively legalize settlement outposts. Makor Rishon reported on Tuesday that Netanyahu had rejected Kerry's proposal, put forward the last time the secretary of state was here, to establish Palestinian economic zones. Netanyahu's rejection of the proposal, according to the newspaper, was on the principle that the Palestinians should not be granted any rewards.
Palestinian Authority officials in Ramallah told Israel Hayom on Monday that they did not expect a significant breakthrough during Kerry's visit, but that efforts to restart peace talks were being made, either directly or indirectly.
The U.N. General Assembly voted overwhelmingly in November to upgrade the Palestinians from a U.N. observer entity to a nonmember observer state, a move vehemently opposed by the U.S. and Israel. Recognition as a state gives the Palestinians the right to apply for membership in U.N. and other organizations, including the International Criminal Court.
Erekat said the Palestinians had now completed the "instruments of accession" to join 63 U.N. specialized agencies, conventions and treaties, but they have not submitted their applications yet "mainly [because] we wanted to give Obama and Kerry a chance," along with U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, Russian President Vladimir Putin, the European Union and others, to achieve a two-state solution based on the pre-1967 borders.
Kerry convinced the Arab world earlier this month to help promote a revival of peace talks by sweetening the Arab concession of universal recognition for the Jewish state in return for Israel's pulling out of most of east Jerusalem and the West Bank, with possible agreed land swaps. But he has struggled to gain any public concession from Israel, which was accused last week of taking steps to legalize four unauthorized settlement outposts in the West Bank.
"We are exerting every possible effort to see that Mr. Kerry succeeds," Erekat said. "No one benefits more [from] the success of Secretary Kerry than Palestinians and no one loses more [from] his failure than Palestinians."
But he said Israel had to stop building settlements in line with its obligations under the 1995 interim agreement and the 2003 roadmap to a Palestinian state, not a condition for resuming peace negotiations.
"Israel must make the choice -- settlements or peace," Erekat told a meeting of the U.N. Committee on the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People.
If Kerry succeeds, the Palestinians will achieve their independence and freedom peacefully, but if he fails, "we are going deeper into the evil apartheid that exists in the West Bank and east Jerusalem," Erekat said.