Secretary of State John Kerry is staying away from the Mideast while Israeli and Palestinian negotiators try to salvage the peace talks under the shadow of a lethal terrorist attack and rioting on Har Habayis.
With only seven days left before the talks expire, State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said Monday that Kerry has no immediate plans to return to the region. Israel and the Palestinians were continuing to “work to find the basis for extending the negotiations” beyond the April 29 deadline, she said.
The negotiating teams met last Thursday in Yerushalayim, after a Wednesday meeting was postponed in the wake of the murder of an off-duty police officer by a Palestinian.
Baruch Mizrachi, 46, was killed when his car came under fire shortly before the start of Pesach on Monday, as he drove with his wife, Haddas, and four of their five children from Modi’in to Kiryat Arba for the Seder. He was laid to rest Wednesday afternoon at Mt. Herzl National cemetery in Yerushalayim.
Mizrachi was a chief superintendent of police. On Monday evening, “at least one Palestinian terrorist opened fire with an automatic weapon at Israeli vehicles on Route 35 near the Tarqumiya checkpoint,” according to police spokesman Mickey Rosenfeld.
Mizrachi’s wife was moderately wounded and rushed to Shaarei Zedek Hospital. One of their children was lightly wounded, as was a child in another vehicle.
Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu accused the Palestinian Authority of engaging in anti-Israeli incitement which led to the attack, for which no Palestinian group has claimed responsibility.
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas issued a statement saying he “condemned violence and the killing of Palestinians and Israelis,” after Netanyahu noted that he had not condemned Monday’s attack.
Also on Monday, Netanyahu said that Abbas’s latest threat to dissolve the Palestinian Authority and merge with Hamas indicates a lack of desire for peace.
“Today, we saw the Palestinian Authority speak of dismantling itself and also talking about unity with Hamas,” the premier said. “They should decide — either dissolve, or enter into a union with Hamas. When they want peace, they should let us know. Because we want a genuine peace.”
American displeasure at the Palestinian threat was conveyed by State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki, who said the dissolution of the Palestinian Authority would constitute an “extreme step” that would “obviously have grave implications.”
“We, the United States, have put millions of dollars into this effort. It would obviously have very serious implications for our relationship, including our assistance going forward,” she warned at her daily press briefing in Washington.
Palestinian officials in Ramallah denied the report of plans for dismantling the PA if peace talks fail.
Meanwhile, violence flared at Har Habayis as police responded with riot control tactics during four days of rock throwing by Arabs who were blocking Israeli and foreign visitors from entering the area. The Arabs have been denouncing statements by some Israeli Knesset members calling for greater access to the site.
Israeli police denied an allegation by a senior Islamic cleric that they hurled stun grenades into the al-Aqsa mosque at the site. Police sources said that officers threw the non-lethal devices on a plaza outside the mosque after protesters threw rocks and firecrackers at them.
Five Palestinians and two police officers were reported injured in Sunday’s clashes. Police said they arrested 16 Palestinians.