The Arab League said Friday it would give the the US one month to change Israel’s position on settlement building and endorsed President Abbas’s refusal to continue talks with Israeli.
AFP - The United States pledged to keep working to rescue Middle East peace talks after Arab ministers gave it one month from Friday to secure a change of heart from Israel over Jewish settlement building.
The ministers, meeting in Sirte, Libya, made it clear that the direct talks with the Palestinians relaunched just last month would collapse if Israel did not halt settlement expansion in the occupied West Bank.
The Arab League Follow-up Committee said it would meet "in a month to review the alternatives proposed by (Palestinian president Mahmud) Abbas to determine the necessary steps to be taken on this."
The committee, which groups 13 foreign ministers, urged Washington to pursue efforts in the meantime to stop Israeli settlement activity.
It added that it "supports the position of the Palestinian president calling for a total cessation of settlement to allow the resumption of direct negotiations."
The Palestinian leader's spokesman, Nabil Abu Rudeina, said the statement "offers huge support for the position of president Abbas.
"The committee will convene again in a month to study the alternatives, which gives the US administration a chance between now and then to try to find a solution to the settlements issue," he said.
Washington expressed appreciation for the ministers' statement of support for its efforts.
"We will continue to work with the parties, and all our international partners, to advance negotiations toward a two-state solution and encourage the parties to take constructive actions toward that end," State Department spokesman Philip J. Crowley said.
But the Islamist Hamas movement, which has controlled the Gaza Strip since ousting forces loyal to Abbas in 2007, expressed frustration that Arab ministers had not gone further in supporting the abandonment of talks.
"Giving more time to the Americans will just bring more pressure on Arab governments and the Palestinian side and lead to the actions of the Israelis being ignored," spokesman Fawzi Barhum told AFP.
Abbas came to Sirte to seek backing to withdraw from the peace negotiations after Israel adamantly refused to extend a freeze on settlement building that expired on September 26.
Last-ditch efforts to reach a compromise appeared to have failed, with Israel silent on the moratorium and the Palestinians insisting they would not talk while settlement activity continued on land they want as a future state.
The ministers' statement came after Arab League chief Amr Mussa gave a dire assessment of the outlook for the peace talks, which resumed on September 2 after a 20-month hiatus.
"The situation is negative and is not favourable to direct negotiations," Mussa said, adding there were many alternative measures the Arabs could take including "going to the (UN) Security Council."
With the peace talks on tenterhooks, fresh violence erupted in the occupied West Bank when Israeli forces killed two Hamas militants said to be behind an August attack that killed four settlers, one of them pregnant.
And in east Jerusalem, two stone-throwing Palestinian boys were run over and injured by a car driven by a hardline Jewish settler leader.
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton reassured Abbas that Washington would try to coax Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu into renewing settlement curbs "until the very last minute," Abu Rudeina told AFP earlier.
In response, the Palestinian leader said he was "ready to resume negotiations on condition there is a clear freeze of the settlement activities."
Netanyahu has made no move to renew the freeze, partly because he does not have the support for it in his mostly right-wing coalition.
For the Palestinians, Jewish settlements are a major threat to the establishment of a viable future state in the West Bank, and they see the freezing of settlements as a crucial test of Israel's intentions.
But Netanyahu on Thursday said the Palestinians were responsible for the crisis in the talks.
"The question needs to be directed to the Palestinians: why are you abandoning the talks?" he told reporters.
"Don't turn your backs on peace; stay in the talks. This is what needs to be asked today, and not of the Israeli government."
Date created : 2010-10-09