Cairo, Asharq Al-Awsat and Agencies, The Arab Peace Initiative Committee met in Cairo on Friday to give the green light to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to begin indirect US-brokered negotiations with Israel. This meeting was chaired by Qatari Prime Minister Hamad Bin Jassem Bin Jabr Al Thani, and the decision was taken in light of the proposals and guarantees made by the US to the Palestinian President.
This decision came despite Syrian opposition, and Syrian Ambassador to Egypt, Yousef al-Ahmed criticized the statement issued by the Committee saying, “Along with a number of Arab countries, we have a different position from this statement which contradicts the statement issued by the Arab League Summit in Sirte.”
Al-Ahmed also criticized the Palestinian position saying that “the assurances given to the Palestinian President were verbal assurances not written assurances.” Al-Ahmed stressed that “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.”
Al-Ahmed said that “We have [already] experienced many of the US and Israeli proposals,” and that other countries had put forward different peace proposals, with sources naming these countries as Algeria and Yemen.
The green light from Arab foreign ministers comes after a first attempt to get indirect talks going collapsed in March when Israel announced a new Jewish housing project in east Jerusalem. The Israeli decision enraged Palestinians, who claim east Jerusalem as a future capital, and drew fierce criticism from the United States. It also led to the worst rift in years between the U.S. and Israel, Washington’s closest Middle Eastern ally.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has signaled that he is willing to resume negotiations, but has been waiting for approval from Arab countries, which would provide Abbas the political cover he needs to return to talks.
Arab League chief, Amr Moussa, stressed Saturday that the league would be keeping a close eye on the talks, and said there will be no transition from indirect to direct negotiations. He said, “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.”
At a joint press conference held between Sheikh Hamad Bin Jassem al Thani, Arab League Secretary-General Amr Moussa, and Chief Palestinian negotiator Dr. Saeb Erekat, the Qatari Prime Minister clarified that “we did not discuss what would happen with the Americans if the [indirect] negotiations fail, and we do not want to travel to America solely on the pretext of peace.” He also said that “if we do not reach a solution, we will stop the talks with Israel and leave the Palestinian Cause to those who come after us.”
This is the second time Arab states have backed indirect negotiations with Israel; the first time was in early March. The Arab foreign ministers expressed reservations Saturday about backing the talks again, and warned that peace efforts would collapse if Israel continued to build settlements in east Jerusalem and the West Bank.
Syria and Lebanon rejected the decision, saying the U.S. had not provided adequate safeguards needed to renew negotiations.
On Friday, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said the talks would start next week, and U.S. Mideast envoy George Mitchell is expected back in the region soon.
A source who took part in the Committee told Asharq Al-Awsat that the US proposals presented to the Palestinians are similar to proposals made by former US President Bill Clinton when he was in office.
The negotiations will not be the face-to-face meetings the Obama administration had hoped to put in place more than a year after peace efforts broke down amid Israel’s military offensive on Hamas-ruled Gaza.
The Palestinians have refused to sit down at the same table with Israel until it agrees to freeze all construction in West Bank settlements and in east Jerusalem — two areas that the Palestinians want for an independent state along with the Gaza Strip.
The indirect talks, with Mitchell shuttling between the two sides, were meant as a compromise.
Israel’s prime minister on Sunday welcomed the Arab nations’ endorsement of indirect, U.S.-brokered peace talks with the Palestinians. Benjamin Netanyahu’s office said the prime minister still awaited a formal Palestinian statement on the resumption of peace talks, but renewed his willingness to restart them “at any time and at any place” while insisting they begin “without preconditions.”