Arab ministers agreed on Friday to give the United States another month to try to persuade Israel to renew curbs on West Bank settlement construction and keep Middle East peace talks from collapsing.
The one-month grace period followed a frantic effort by the Obama administration to broker a compromise as the sides faced rising friction over the stalemate. Underscoring the potential for violence, Israeli troops killed two senior Hamas militants in the West Bank.
The Palestinians have said they won’t return to the negotiating table unless Israel renews its moratorium on new construction in West Bank settlements, which expired last week after 10 months. Israel has refused to reinstate the moratorium, though it is considering compromises.
“The Israeli government was given the choice between peace and settlements, and it has chosen settlements,” chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said. “It (Israel) alone bears the responsibility for this.”
Foreign ministers from the 22-member Arab League warned Israel of the dangerous consequences of continuing settlement construction in the Palestinian territories.
“We support the Palestinian President’s position calling for a complete halt of all settlement activities in order to resume negotiation,” the Arab League’s deputy Ahmad Bin Helli said as he read a statement issued after the ministerial meeting.
But the ministers also said they would resume meetings in a month to study alternatives and decide on next steps, giving the United States some breathing room.
The Israeli government had no immediate comment.
Officials in Washington said the Arab League has made clear its support for continued U.S. efforts to create the conditions necessary for resuming peace negotiations.
“We appreciate the Arab League’s statement of support for our efforts to create conditions that will allow direct talks to move forward,” said State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley. “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.”
Direct U.S.-backed negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians began on Sept. 2, following several months of indirect contacts.