Arabs renew backing for indirect talks despite 'no Israeli conviction'

The Arab League decision to endorse so-called proximity talks was taken by the committee of foreign ministers after "guarantees" by US President Barack Obama in a letter to Abbas.

Arabs renew backing for indirect talks despite 'no Israeli conviction'

The Arab League on Saturday gave its backing to indirect Palestinian-Israeli peace talks being pushed by Washington, but also said it doubts the Jewish state's commitment to the process.

Arab League Secretary General Amr Moussa told reporters after a meeting of Arab officials in Cairo that the regional body would back indirect negotiations between Palestinian and Israeli officials.

"The timeframe of indirect talks will not change from what was agreed to in March, and there will be no change from indirect talks to direct talks until after the outcome of indirect talks has been assessed," he said.

"Even if one more settlement"

Chief Palestinian negotiator, Saeb Erekat, warned, however, that any Israeli construction in the disputed east Jerusalem neighbourhood that first torpedoed earlier planned proximity talks will stop the Palestinians from indirectly negotiating.

"If they build one unit out of the 1,600, we will not go to the talks," he said of Israeli plans to build more settlements in the holy city.

He said a final decision would be made by the Palestinian Liberation Organisation executive committee next week. "It was a very positive meeting and they made a consultative decision on engagement in proximity talks for four months."

In March the Palestinians, with Arab backing, reluctantly agreed to indirect US-brokered talks for a period of four months, but those plans collapsed days later when Israel announced during a visit by US Vice President Joe Biden that it would build 1,600 new settlements in east Jerusalem.

The announcement angered the United States that called it "an insult" and the international community.

"Obama guarantees"

The Arab League decision to endorse so-called proximity talks was taken by the committee of foreign ministers after "guarantees" by US President Barack Obama in a letter to Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas.

"Despite the lack of conviction of the Israeli side in achieving peace, the committee affirms what was agreed on the 2nd of March 2010 in regards to the time period for the indirect negotiations," the statement said.

It was referring to a decision, taken before the Israeli settlements announcement, by Arab foreign ministers to back one last round of indirect peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians within a four-month deadline.

"Steps on ICC"

Saturday's League statement said it reaffirmed that the negotiations must "demand a complete end to settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories, including Jerusalem."

It added that it will take steps to refer "illegal Israeli measures in Jerusalem and occupied lands to the International Court of Justice."

Qatari Prime Minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassem al-Thani told a news conference that the time period for indirect talks was two months, by when their usefulness would be assessed.

"If these negotiations go well, we will extend the period." He also said he believed the talks would begin "in the coming days."

"We do not trust Israel, and we said that before. We have found positive indicators from the US mediator. We are now talking with the US mediator, and we are giving these extensions to the US mediator."

Israeli settlements?

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's spokesman said the prime minister "welcomed" the Arab League decision, adding that Israel wants to renew the peace talks with the Palestinians any time and any place, on condition this is done "without preconditions".

Syria and Lebanon did not support the Arab League statement, Syria's ambassador said.

"This committee has exceeded its authority and given the Palestinians the green light to start indirect talks without the Israelis taking steps on the ground," Yousef al-Ahmed said.

On Friday, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said she expected indirect talks to begin next week with U.S. special envoy George Mitchell returning to the region to try to energise a peace process.

An Israeli political official said Mitchell was expected to visit the region on Monday.

Abbas had demanded Israel freeze settlements before he would come to the negotiating table. But Reuters news agency said, "Palestinian sources" have suggested he might accept a delay to some Jewish housing projects instead and have spoken of an unwritten commitment from Mitchell to assign blame publicly to any party that jeopardises the talks.

Erekat said the Palestinian side had been given "positive indications" by the United States but declined to elaborate.

Agencies

Last Mod: 02 Mayıs 2010, 15:46
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