J'lem: Arab League not meeting deadline on settlements

Official: "Deadlines have proven to be elastic, doesn’t mean that if some formula is not found by Friday, that’s the end of the story."

Netanyahu with woman cabinet 311 AP (photo credit: AP)
Netanyahu with woman cabinet 311 AP
(photo credit: AP)
The Arab League may have to make its determination Friday about whether to give a green light to the Palestinian Authority to continue direct talks with Israel without any clear declaration from Israel regarding the settlement moratorium construction issue, senior government officials said Monday.
According to the officials, just as the much talked about September 26 expiration of the settlement construction moratorium passed “without the sky falling,” so too the Arab League foreign ministers may meet in Libya over the weekend without any formal Israeli proclamation about a new formula for settlement construction.
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The Arab League meeting has been widely considered a deadline by which the issue must be cleared up, lest the Palestinian Authority carry out its threat to quit the talks because Israel did not extend the moratorium.
But these deadlines, one official said, have in the past proven to be “elastic.” There are always deadlines, but this doesn’t mean that if some formula is not found by Friday, that’s the end of the story, the official said, adding that intensive discussions with the Americans were continuing to take place.
Another official noted that the search for finding a formula was being negotiated between each side and the Americans – as was the case during the proximity talks – not directly between the Israelis and the Palestinians.
That Israel was not necessarily working according to the Arab League clock seemed clear Tuesday when Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu convened the “septet,” his forum of senior ministers, where the issue – at least according to a statement put out by Netanyahu’s office – was not even discussed.
According to the statement, the septet discussed “the campaign of delegitimization that would deny Israel’s right to defend itself,” and was briefed by Joseph Ciechanover, Israel’s representative on the four-man UN panel probing the Mava Marmara incident.
“Contrary to various media reports and in accordance with a statement issued yesterday by the Prime Minister’s Bureau, the forum did not discuss the efforts being made to enable the continuation of the peace talks,” the statement read.
The 15-member security cabinet is scheduled to meet Wednesday, but – like Tuesday’s septet meeting – the current impasse in the negotiations is not on the agenda.
Netanyahu has, however, reportedly held private discussions over the last few days with senior ministers, including each of the septet members, to brief them on the current status of the efforts to get over the present standstill.
One senior official said that Netanyahu was concerned that if Israel extended the moratorium, Jerusalem would be seen as having no “red lines,” a bad perception to foster on the eve of negotiations dealing with much more critical issues.
According to this senior official, the US was putting pressure on both Israel and the Palestinians to show flexibility, and was also making it clear to both sides that it was not in either of their best interests for the negotiations to grind to a halt.
The official said there have been intensive US diplomatic efforts in recent days to lobby key Arab states, such as Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and other Persian Gulf countries, to back a continuation of the talks.
Another diplomatic official said the impression that Israel was holding out on extending the moratorium by some two months to get more “incentives” from the US – beyond various political and military promises that the Obama Administration was reportedly already willing to offer Israel – was “mistaken.”
Were Netanyahu to hold a vote on extending the freeze at Wednesday’s security cabinet meeting, it would almost certainly be defeated. Out of the security cabinet’s 15 voting members, only Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak would support it. Deputy Prime Minister Dan Meridor, who would also vote for it, is abroad.
The move would be opposed by three Israel Beiteinu and two Shas ministers, plus Bennie Begin, Moshe Ya’alon, Yuval Steinitz, Gideon Sa’ar and Silvan Shalom of Likud, and Yaakov Neeman, who is unaffiliated.
Opposition leader Tzipi Livni blamed Netanyahu for failing to advance the peace process on Tuesday in an address at Harvard University.
“The government of Israel wasted two years by not continuing the negotiations from where we left off,” she said. “Now it must make decisions to save what is left of the negotiations. The prime minister knows that Kadima would back him if he makes the right decisions, so he should make them soon.”