Arab League backs indirect talks

PA gets green light for 4 months of US-mediated negotiations with Israel.

Moussa Abbas 311 (photo credit: Associated Press)
Moussa Abbas 311
(photo credit: Associated Press)
CAIRO — Arab nations gave the green light Wednesday for Palestinians toenter indirect negotiations with Israel for a preliminary four-monthperiod, a decision that likely breaks the months-long deadlock overresuming Mideast peace talks.
The United States has proposedso-called proximity talks to end the impasse between Israelis andPalestinians over the conditions for resuming negotiations, which brokedown more than a year ago amid Israel's military offensive in the GazaStrip.
The Arab approval gives Palestinian Authority PresidentMahmoud Abbas the political cover he needed to accept the offer. Abbashas staunchly rejected direct talks unless Israel calls a complete haltto construction of Jewish settlements in the West Bank and eastJerusalem — and he had been wary of entering even indirect talkswithout Arab backing.
The gathering of 14 Arab League foreign ministers in Cairo agreed.
"Despitethe lack of conviction in the seriousness of the Israeli side, thecommittee sees that it would give the indirect talks the chance as alast attempt and to facilitate the US role," said Arab League SecretaryGeneral Amr Moussa, reading from a statement.
Moussa said Arabforeign ministers backed the talks on the condition that they last fourmonths. "This should not be an open-ended process," he said.
Theministers also said the indirect talks, mediated by US officials,should not turn into direct Israeli-Palestinian talks without a totalfreeze in settlement construction.
Prime Minister BinyaminNetanyahu instituted a 10-month halt on new construction in the WestBank in November, but the measure does not include building that wasalready started or construction in east Jerusalem, the sector of thecity Palestinians claim as the capital of a future state.
Moussastressed that even indirect negotiations are doomed to failure ifIsraeli measures such as settlement construction continue. He warnedthat if indirect talks fail to yield results, the Arabs will call foran emergency Security Council meeting to address the Arab-Israeliconflict and would ask Washington not to use its veto.
Abbas hasbeen under strong pressure from US-allied Arab states such as Egypt andJordan to accept the American proposal for indirect talks, but thePalestinian president has told Arab leaders he will not take this stepalone.
The statement did not receive the unanimous support of the 14 Arab nations that took part in the meeting.
Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem interrupted Moussa while hewas reading the statement, insisting that the decision on whether tojoin indirect talks or not was up to the Palestinians. "ThePalestinians are better positioned to know what to do," he said.
Government spokesman Mark Regev welcomed the Arab decision.
"Prime Minister Netanyahu has been calling continuously for theresumption of peace talks and we hope now that the talks can moveforward," he said.
Earlier Wednesday, Egyptian television reported that Prime MinisterBinyamin Netanyahu told Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak in a telephoneconversation on Tuesday night that he expected to launch peacenegotiations with the Palestinians without delay.