US Secretary of State John F. Kerry says that Israel's announcement last week of new housing for Jewish settlers in East Jerusalem led to the breakdown of his eight-month effort to reach a peace deal between Israelis and Palestinians.
Appearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Tuesday, Kerry said both sides had taken steps in recent days that stood in the way of progress. But he said a turning point came when an Israeli housing agency published tenders for 700 new apartments.
"Seven hundred settlement units were announced in Jerusalem and, poof, that was sort of the moment," Kerry said.
With the talks seemingly at an impasse, Kerry announced Friday that he and President Barack Obama would review whether the US-led peace effort should continue. Neither Israelis nor Palestinians, he said, were willing to make the sacrifices needed for a deal.
The announcement on the housing units came as the Palestinians were refusing to agree to continue the peace talks.
Four days earlier, Israel had decided to delay the planned release of 26 Palestinian prisoners because of the Palestinians' refusal to commit to continuing negotiations.
Even so, Kerry insisted that the peace effort was not dead. He said Israelis and Palestinians had not halted all communications and that the US stood ready to continue its role as broker if the parties could overcome the dispute over the prisoner release.
"My hope is the parties will find a way back," Kerry said. "We're working with them to try to do so."
He said that even if the parties didn't resume talks, his effort had been worthwhile because the secret discussions had yielded agreement on several points.
"There has been a narrowing of differences," he said.