Peace in the Middle East is within reach and there is no more time for procrastination, the Arab League's secretary-general said Friday.
Amr Moussa said Thursday's U.N. Security Council meeting on reviving the Middle East peace process was "the first step in the direction" after three years of stalled talks.
"The consensus is there. We are going to build on yesterday's meeting to establish peace," an upbeat Moussa told a news conference. He shrugged off "some hurdles" in getting a unified stance among the 15 nations on the Security Council to present a formal statement.
"There is something positive that is coming out of the negative situation in the area _ that all of us in the Arab countries believe that time is running out and that action has to be taken," he added.
French Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy agreed.
"I believe that we've reached a time where despite the ambient gloom, there might actually be a glimmer of hope in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict," Douste-Blazy said at a breakfast meeting with a group of journalists.
He said Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas' statement at the United Nations late Thursday indicating that a national unity government would recognize Israel was a positive development. Douste-Blazy said it was essential that Israel and the United States now give Abbas a helping hand.
However, news from the Middle East was not too encouraging. Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh of the militant Hamas group on Friday rejected Abbas' proposal and said he would not lead a coalition that recognizes Israel.
Hamas has ruled alone since March, but earlier this month agreed to share power with Abbas' Fatah Party, in hopes of ending a crippling international aid boycott of the Palestinian Authority.
Douste-Blazy said a Palestinian national unity government that recognizes Israel would encourage the international community to reassess its position - "as to political contacts as well as the assistance which may be given to the Palestinian population."
Also, France would like to see a meeting between Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. Olmert could then show that his troubled party is "truly a party of peace," Douste-Blazy said.
Palestinian national unity, he said, would mean that Hamas would be a minority in the government and Abbas's Fatah, which recognizes Israel, would be the majority.
In that light, "I believe that it's rather in Olmert's interest to talk with chairman Abbas and to go very fast to set up two states. I believe that it is in the interest of the world at large, but also politically in their interest," he said.
Douste-Blazy also said that failure to support Palestinian moderates would not lead to the collapse of Hamas, but rather the "whole of Palestinian society and that would be dreadful."
Moussa also warned of dire consequences if the international community does not seize on this new opportunity to push for peace, especially now that the Security Council was on board.
The Arab League believes that any revitalized talks should focus on the final status negotiations - rather than the process itself. They include the border, the status of Jerusalem and the right of return of Palestinians in Diaspora.
At the end of Thursday's council meeting, Bahrain's Foreign Minister Sheik Khalid bin Ahmed Al Khalifa called for initial negotiations between Israel and the Arabs with a concrete timeframe, as well as a report from UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan on the best way to hold those negotiations.
"The Arab countries, perhaps for the first time, are coming with one representative speaking on their own behalf with an agreed text..." Moussa said.
"The message we believe has been very clear and very precise," he said.
Moussa said the West's boycott of Hamas was counterproductive and it would have been better had they been brought to the fold _ "using the grace period of 100 days to help them rather than to isolate them.
"The policy of isolation and people shouting 'terrorist, terrorist, terrorist,' this is wrong. The... opportunity was there. We don't have to push governments or organizations to be more radical. We want to get them to work together in order to reach a negotiated settlement _ a fair settlement and a just one that we are calling for."
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