JERUSALEM — The Palestinian leadership on Wednesday formally submitted applications to join 15 international conventions and treaties despite opposition from the United States and Israel, reflecting a deep crisis in Middle East peace talks. Yet all three parties appeared ready to seek a formula for continuing the negotiations.
A three-way meeting between American, Israeli and Palestinian negotiators was said to be taking place Wednesday night in Jerusalem. Secretary of State John Kerry, who brokered the start of the talks last July and has remained intimately involved, spoke to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel and President Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority by telephone from Brussels.
A senior State Department official said that while it would be “shortsighted and premature” to make any predictions, “we will spend the next few days continuing to discuss with both parties the options for the path ahead.”
Mr. Netanyahu’s office maintained an official silence through Wednesday suggesting Israel had no interest in inflaming the situation. But experts said there was likely to be some practical Israeli reaction, possibly taking the form of announcements of more settlement construction or withholding the transfer of tax revenues that the Israelis collect on behalf of the Palestinian Authority.
Tzipi Livni, the Israeli government’s negotiator, wrote on her Facebook page on Wednesday night that the latest Palestinian moves were “not encouraging” but that she was engaged in a determined effort to keep the “difficult and complex” negotiations going.
Palestinian officials and analysts described the move led by Mr. Abbas as a carefully calculated one born largely of domestic considerations, meant to salvage credibility in the eyes of his jaded public, not to derail the peace process. The Palestine Liberation Organization’s negotiations department said in a statement that “The P.L.O. remains committed to this nine-month process, which ends on April 29.”
That gives American mediators almost another month to try to work out a deal for the extension of talks that have so far yielded little progress, but have the stated goal of the establishment of a Palestinian state alongside Israel.
The American administration appeared focused on containing the situation with even-handedness. The State Department official said of the Israelis and Palestinians, “Both sides have taken unhelpful steps over the last 24 hours.”
For the Palestinians, the crisis was precipitated by what they said was an Israeli violation of a commitment to release a fourth batch of long-serving Palestinian security prisoners by March 29. Mr. Abbas had pledged not to seek membership in international bodies for the nine months allotted for the negotiations, in return for the release of prisoners. But Israel had delayed the release while it tried to seal a broader, American-brokered deal to extend the negotiations through to the beginning of 2015.
Palestinian officials were further enraged on Tuesday when the Israeli government reissued bids for the construction of more than 700 housing units in Gilo, an area of Jerusalem that Israel captured in the 1967 war and that the Palestinians claim as part of a future state. The construction tenders were first issued late last year and again in January but they failed to attract any bids from developers.
On Tuesday evening a gathering of about 50 members of the Palestinian top leadership voted unanimously to take immediate steps to join the 15 conventions and treaties including the Four Geneva Conventions of 1949, the Hague Convention respecting the Laws and Customs of War on Land and the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties.
“It was necessary to do something to appease the Palestinian street,” Ziad Abu Amr, a deputy prime minister in the Palestinian Authority government and a close aide to Mr. Abbas, said in a telephone interview.
“Nothing has changed regarding the Palestinians’ basic attitude and commitments,” he said, but he suggested that the way back to talks would be fraught with complications.
Before the latest Palestinian move Israeli officials had spoken of an emerging deal involving the imminent release by the United States of an American jailed for spying for Israel in the 1980s; the release of the fourth batch of prisoners and an additional 400 Palestinian prisoners who had not committed murder; and a slowdown in settlement activity in the West Bank — though not applying to areas of Jerusalem like Gilo.
Mr. Abu Amr said those terms were unacceptable and that he did not believe the Palestinians would go back to negotiations without a total Israeli freeze of settlement construction.
Muhammad Shtayyeh, another senior aide to Mr. Abbas and a former member of the Palestinian negotiating team, said the Israeli stalling over the prisoner release had been “humiliating,” adding, “This is a matter of dignity for the Palestinian people.”
Mr. Abbas has been under increasing internal pressure of late, even from within his own Fatah party, and has been criticized for engaging in an open feud with a onetime ally who Mr. Abbas now sees as a rival, Muhammad Dahlan, a former Gaza strongman and Fatah security chief. With Gaza under the control of Hamas, the Islamic militant group, and Palestinian elections long overdue, many Palestinians also question Mr. Abbas’s legitimacy as a ruler and decision-maker.
“He has a lot of holes in his sack,” said Zakaria Zakaria al-Qaq, a Palestinian expert in national security at Al-Quds University in East Jerusalem.
Kamel Husseini, a Palestinian public relations expert, said that the release of prisoners was the only thing that the peace process had delivered so far and that after the delay “Palestinian public opinion would not tolerate business as usual.” Mr. Abbas’s move, he said, was “bold but not reckless.”
Israeli experts and analysts agreed that the Palestinian move was calibrated to avoid a major breakdown of the peace process.
“The Palestinians themselves are not foolish enough to believe that this is really a significant political step,” he said. “It is also not a punishment for Israel. What are we going to pay for it or suffer for it? It is a very artificial game here. They will not gain and we will not lose.”
With the gaps still wide, there is deep skepticism on both sides that the talks will actually result in a solution for the Israel-Palestinian conflict, even with an extension.
“In the end of the day some formula will be adopted and the process will continue, although it has no chance to succeed,” said Giora Eiland, a former Israeli national security adviser now at Israel’s Institute for National Security Studies at Tel Aviv University. Neither side wanted to be blamed for destroying a process that is “so dear and so important for John Kerry,” he said.
Mr. Qaq said that if the prisoner issue can be unlocked, “we will be back to normalcy, meaning the usual stalemate.”