SIRTE, (Reuters) – Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has told Arab powers he may seek U.S. recognition for a Palestinian state taking in all of the West Bank should peace talks with Israel stay stalled, an aide said on Saturday.
The idea, raised during close-door Arab League deliberations in Libya on Friday, could step up pressure on Israel to extend a freeze on Jewish settlement building in the occupied territory, without which Abbas has said peace negotiations cannot continue.
Arab foreign ministers endorsed that Palestinian position but, hoping to head off a collapse of the talks launched by U.S. President Barack Obama just five weeks ago, said they would reconvene in a month to discuss “alternatives” mooted by Abbas.
Senior Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat told Reuters these included “ask(ing) the United States to recognize the state of Palestine on the 1967 borders” and studying the possibility of a similar U.N. recognition through a Security Council resolution.
“I cannot specify all the alternatives that were presented by President Abbas, but the president will keep working with the American administration to achieve a full cessation of settlement activities in order to restart talks,” Erekat said.
A diplomatic source at the Arab League meeting told Reuters another of the alternatives put forward by Abbas was for him to threaten to step down unless settlement building is halted.
Abbas had been expected to address Arab heads of state gathered in the Libyan town of Sirte on Saturday, but aides said the Palestinian president would not deliver a speech.
Palestinians want a state in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and in the Gaza Strip — lands Israel captured from Jordan and Egypt in the 1967 war. Israel quit Gaza in 2005 but insists on keeping all of Jerusalem — its declared capital — and swathes of West Bank settlements under any peace accord.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu imposed a partial 10-month freeze on settlement construction last November in what he called a goodwill gesture to get negotiations started.
Netanyahu, whose governing coalition includes pro-settler parties, has resisted calls to renew the moratorium, which expired last month. He says the dispute would become irrelevant should peacemaking ripen to the point of delineating borders.
Past proposals for Palestinian statehood to be declared without Israeli consent have been received coolly by the United States and other world powers, who want a negotiated solution though they regard the settlements as illegitimate and do not accept the Jewish state’s claim on East Jerusalem.
Friday’s Arab League statement spelled yet another reprieve for a Middle East peace process that Obama has made a centerpiece of U.S. foreign policy. Washington welcomed it.
“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,” said Philip J. Crowley, assistant U.S. secretary of state for public affairs.
Israeli officials declined to comment on the Arab League meeting or Erekat’s account of the proposal on Palestinian statehood. Israel Radio quoted an unnamed Netanyahu aide as crediting the Americans with keeping the peace talks in play.
Abbas has said he wants to go on negotiating but cannot unless the building of new homes for Jewish settlers is frozen for “three to four months more to give peace a chance.”
The Palestinians say settlements would deny them a viable state, which they envisage having East Jerusalem as capital.
The Obama administration is seeking a 60-day extension of the freeze, diplomats said, offering Israel various incentives.