In what is being referred to here as the “poof speech,” Mr. Kerry laid out the chain of events that led to the verge of a breakdown.

Clearly stung by Mr. Kerry’s portrayal and his focus on the settlement issue, Israel countered on Wednesday that it was the Palestinians who had “violated their fundamental commitments” by applying last week to join 15 international conventions and treaties.

Mr. Kerry’s remarks “will both hurt the negotiations and harden Palestinian positions,” said an official in the office of the Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, speaking on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the matter publicly.

***

Israel imposed economic sanctions against the Palestinians on Thursday in retaliation for their leadership signing international conventions, moves that further complicate U.S. efforts to keep peace talks from collapsing before an April 29 deadline.

An Israeli official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the Jewish state would deduct debt payments from tax transfers which the Palestinian Authority routinely receives, and limit the self-rule government’s bank deposits in

On Wednesday, Israel said it was limiting its contacts with Palestinian officials, citing Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’s signing of U.N. human rights conventions last week.

Israel viewed that move as an attempt by the Palestinians to assume the trappings of statehood outside the framework of the U.S.-backed negotiations.

***

Sources in Jerusalem confirmed Thursday that Israel has presented the Palestinians with a new package aimed at extending peace talks, and the US has not taken the possible release of Israeli agent Jonathan Pollard off of the table.

A diplomatic source said that “if the Palestinian Authority agrees to stop its plans to join a number of international treaties and conventions, Israel will agree to a new prisoner release package in return for the continuation of negotiations until the end of the year at a minimum.”

According to the source, the Palestinians expressed willingness to consider the compromise offer put on the table by Justice Minister Tzipi Livni.

The emerging deal will allow both sides to “come down from the tree” and appear publicly as if they did not compromise on their positions.

***

The State Department said on Thursday that progress was being made in U.S.-mediated negotiations between the Israelis and Palestinians meant to keep peace talks going, but denied reports from the region that there had been an agreement.

“Our negotiating team and both parties remain in intensive negotiation. They had another meeting today. The gaps are narrowing but any speculations about an agreement are premature at this time,” State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki told a regular briefing.

Asked precisely what the negotiators were trying to achieve, Psaki said: “We are working to determine what the path forward is for these negotiations.”

Psaki said that the U.S. mediator, Martin Indyk, would be returning to Washington for consultations “in the coming days” but would return to the region next week.

***

But if the negotiations had been serious, if the Palestinians were really looking at them as though they could lead to a final agreement on the contours of a state, Abbas and his team wouldn’t have let the talks go “poof” over the new permits.

These talks mean nothing to them; they’ve done nothing to advance negotiations in all these months. They’ve moved on nothing, agreed to nothing, made no goodwill gestures toward Israel or the United States.

And Kerry? He’s basically fine with this. He’s full of understanding. He understands it would be difficult for Mahmoud Abbas to acknowledge Israel as a “Jewish state,” so he doesn’t act as though Abbas’ refusal to do so says anything about Abbas’ viability as a negotiating partner.

Abbas’ recalcitrance should’ve told John Kerry everything he needed to know.

But Kerry doesn’t want to know. What he wants is a Nobel Peace Prize he’s never going to get.

***

John Kerry seemed intent on doing that too. But his version of the framework has never been announced–and the chance of the two parties’ producing their own mutually agreed-upon outline evaporated long ago, if it ever existed in the first place. Kerry deserves credit for the energy he’s put into the process, but there has been a tinge of desperation to his efforts over the past months–a reminder of the wobbly garrulousness that has damaged President Obama’s foreign policy since he took office. Kerry raised the loathsome possibility of releasing Jonathan Pollard, a U.S. citizen who spied for Israel, in order to cajole the Israelis into continuing the talks. Then, in congressional testimony on April 8, he weirdly blamed the Israelis for the impasse because of their insistence on building 700 new apartments in an East Jerusalem neighborhood, Gilo, that everyone assumes will be part of Israel if the borders are redrawn. There has been, as with Syria last summer, a melted cheesiness to his public statements when the heat is on.

Why hasn’t Kerry published a framework for the talks as promised? In my interviews with current and former diplomats, a prevailing theme emerged: a reiteration of the Clinton framework would activate the Sheldon Adelson neoconservative wing of the Republican Party, plus many Christian evangelicals who see the annexation of the West Bank territories as biblical prophesy, and this is a fight that Obama doesn’t particularly want at this point. Why not? The President may want to keep his powder dry, in part to keep Jewish voters on the reservation in the 2014 midterms but also because another, more promising fight is looming with the neoconservatives–over the Iran nuclear talks.

***

So now the two sides are back to being on about equal footing. Both sides have behaved badly and will have to step back from the precipice, if Kerry plays it right. By leaving a team under U.S. envoy Martin Indyk in place on the scene, the door is open for resurrecting the deal that was on the verge of being completed when the Palestinians decided to move their efforts to the U.N.

An agreement can be envisioned in which Abbas terminates his U.N. gambit, the Israelis withdraw their plans for economic retaliation, the Palestinian prisoners who were going to be released are released, the U.S. releases convicted spy Jonathan Pollard, and possibly the Israelis make some muted statement about restraint on construction in disputed territories in the future. Each side would be able to state that had it not been for their tough actions, a deal would have been impossible.

If something like this scenario transpires, the wisdom of Kerry’s approach would suddenly and resoundingly be reinforced.

***

In any event, this “injustice” is also self-inflicted, since three times in the past 15 years the Palestinians have refused offers of a state on most of the territory taken by Israel in 1967 and with Jerusalem as its capital. They have justified these refusals by one pretext or another, but as anyone willing to look can see, what they truly want is not a state of their own living side by side with Israel but a state that replaces Israel altogether.

With this we come to the main reason I believe that the Palestinians do not deserve any sympathy, let alone the astonishing degree of it they do receive (and not least from many of my fellow Jews). It is that ever since the day of Israel’s birth in 1948, they have never ceased declaring that their goal is to wipe it off the map. In all other contexts, this would be called by its rightful name of genocide and condemned by all decent people. Yet—here we go topsy-turvy again—for any and every step Israel takes to defend itself against so shamelessly evil an intent, it is the Israelis who are obsessively condemned at the U.N. and by the increasingly strident propagators of what calls itself “anti-Zionism” but is also increasingly indistinguishable from anti-Semitism.

Nor, alas, is it only the leaders of the Palestinians who harbor this evil intent. As revealed by poll after poll, as well as by the elections that led the way for Hamas to take power in Gaza, a decisive majority of the Palestinian people does so as well. No doubt this is the fruit of relentless indoctrination from above, but the damage has been done, and the end result is what it is.

***

Nothing has changed in all the months (years, even) of talks. If Iran refuses to acknowledge it even has a nuclear weapons program, it is not going to give it up. Kerry operates in a world in which “no” never means “no.”

These reports lead to several conclusions. First, lawmakers who want to give Kerry “time to negotiate” with Iran are fooling themselves. In forgoing alternative steps in favor of fruitless negotiations, they are enabling the Iranians. Indeed, Kerry confirms that Iran’s breakout time is now only two months. Second, the time spent in the “peace process” has been a waste and, if anything, has frittered away whatever credibility Kerry had. Kerry’s initial impulse is invariably to blame Israel (before he resorts to moral equivalence), but in fact it’s the Palestinians who have refused to give up their hopes of a one-state (an Arab one) solution and now have gone in search of unilateral recognition. Here again, Congress should not sit idly by. The Palestinian Authority has broken its international agreements and should, as a result of its “unity government” with Hamas, lose at least some U.S. funding. (Those organizations that accept the PA should lose the benefit of U.S. membership as well as U.S. funding.)