Arab nations gave the green light on Wednesday for Palestinians to enter indirect negotiations with Israel for a preliminary four-month period, a decision that likely breaks the months-long deadlock over resuming West Asia peace talks.
The United States has proposed so-called proximity talks to end the impasse between Israelis and Palestinians over the conditions for resuming negotiations, which broke down more than a year ago amid Israel’s military offensive in the Gaza Strip.
The Arab approval gives Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas the political cover he needed to accept the offer. Mr. Abbas has staunchly rejected direct talks unless Israel calls a complete halt to construction of Jewish settlements in the West Bank and east Jerusalem — and he had been wary of entering even indirect talks without Arab backing.
The gathering of 14 Arab League foreign ministers in Cairo agreed.
“Despite the lack of conviction in the seriousness of the Israeli side, the committee sees that it would give the indirect talks the chance as a last attempt and to facilitate the U.S. role,” said Arab League Secretary Amr Moussa, reading from a statement.
Mr. Moussa said Arab foreign ministers backed the talks on the condition that they last four months. “This should not be an open-ended process,” he said.
The ministers also said the indirect talks, mediated by U.S. officials, should not turn into direct Israeli-Palestinian talks without a total freeze in settlement construction.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has instituted a six-month halt on new construction in the West Bank, but the measure does not include building that was already started or construction in east Jerusalem, the sector of the city Palestinians claim as the capital of a future state.
Mr. Moussa stressed that even indirect negotiations are doomed to failure if Israeli measures such as settlement construction continue. He warned that if indirect talks fail to yield results, the Arabs will call for an emergency Security Council meeting to address the Arab-Israeli conflict and would ask Washington not to use its veto.
Mr. Abbas has been under strong pressure from U.S.-allied Arab states such as Egypt and Jordan to accept the American proposal for indirect talks, but the Palestinian president has told Arab leaders he will not take this step alone.
The statement did not receive the unanimous support of the 14 Arab nations that took part in the meeting.
Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem interrupted Mr. Moussa while he was reading the statement, insisting that the decision on whether to join indirect talks or not was up to the Palestinians. “The Palestinians are better positioned to know what to do,” he said.
Israeli government spokesman Mark Regev welcomed the Arab decision.
“Prime Minister Netanyahu has been calling continuously for the resumption of peace talks and we hope now that the talks can move forward,” he said.