CAIRO (AFP) – Arab foreign ministers will hold crucial talks with Palestinian Mahmud Abbas on Thursday to decide whether he will begin direct negotiations with Israel amid pressure from the United States.
Abbas has accepted holding only indirect talks with Israel, which has rejected his conditions for face-to-face negotiations.
Thursday’s meeting is expected to back Abbas’s condition that Israel guarantee a Palestinian state based on pre-1967 borders between the Jewish state and east Jerusalem and the West Bank.
“The issue is not US pressure, the issue is what is in the Palestinians’ interests,” Arab League official Hisham Yussef, who heads Secretary General Amr Mussa’s office, told AFP.
“Their interest from their perspective is clear — they want to see progress in the proximity talks and we support them.”
Abbas also wants an end to settlement construction in east Jerusalem and the West Bank. Israel acceded to US pressure to limit settlement building in the West Bank until September, when a moratorium ends.
The Palestinian leader repeated his conditions on the eve of the meeting in an interview with Egyptian newspaper editors, the official Egyptian MENA news agency reported on Thursday.
Abbas will present the 13 foreign ministers of the Arab Peace Initiative committee with the results of the US-brokered indirect talks the Arab League approved in May for a four-month period.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said he is willing to meet Abbas to discuss all the core issues of the decades-old conflict, and has accused the Palestinians of avoiding engaging in direct talks.
Palestinian chief negotiator Saeb Erakat told an Arab newspaper this week that US President Barack Obama told the Palestinians in a letter that he will help found a Palestinian state only if they begin direct talks with Israel.
Abbas suspended negotiations with Israel after its offensive on the Islamist Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip in December 2008 in response to rocket fire.
He has demanded that the talks pick up from where he left off with then Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, a condition rejected by Netanyahu’s government.