The Palestinians, backed by Arab powers, said on Saturday they would give the US one month to persuade Israel to halt the building of settlements in the West Bank or risk the collapse of peace talks.
The message, issued at an Arab League meeting in Libya, represented a reprieve for Washington as it tries to salvage five-week-old talks stalled over Israel’s refusal to extend a settlement freeze on occupied land where Palestinians seek statehood.
Diplomats said Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Arab foreign ministers had in a closed session mooted “alternatives” to a future resumption of face-to-face negotiations with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Abbas’ proposals included seeking US and UN pledges of recognition for a future Palestine taking in all of the West Bank and a threat by the president to step down over the impasse, diplomats said.
Following those discussions on Friday, the Arab ministers said they would reconvene on the issue in a month. The Palestinians put the onus on US President Barack Obama’s administration.
“We are giving the United States an opportunity to convince Israel to stop settlements. We are giving them a month which will be a period of political interaction between the United States and Israel,” Abbas spokesman Nabil Abu Rdeneh said.
Netanyahu has resisted international calls to renew the settlement moratorium, which expired last month. Israel argues that the Palestinians should have entered negotiations earlier in the 10-month freeze and that the dispute would be irrelevant once peacemaking ripened to the point of demarcating borders.
Yet the moratorium wrangling masks far deeper divisions over what a final accord, should it ever be reached, would contain.
The Palestinians say settlement growth on land occupied by Israel in 1967 will make the establishment of a viable Palestinian state impossible. They want to found their state in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, with East Jerusalem as its capital.
Israel quit Gaza in 2005 but insists on keeping all of Jerusalem — its declared capital — and swathes of West Bank settlements under any peace deal.
The Arab League’s statement was welcomed in Washington, which, diplomats say, is asking for a 60-day extension to the settlement moratorium and offering Israel various incentives.
“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 Crowley, assistant US secretary of state for public affairs.
Meanwhile, the leader of Israel’s main opposition Kadima party came out in favor of an extension of the freeze on settlement building in an interview on Saturday.
Tzipi Livni spoke out after maintaining several weeks of silence on the issue.
“For as long as I thought that it was possible to negotiate a peace agreement without paying the price of a freeze, I stayed silent,” she told Israeli television. “But today I think that the time has come to criticize the prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu on this point.”
The government should accept the US proposal to extend the moratorium on settlement building, she added.
The idea of Palestinians getting international recognition for a state in the 1967 lines, without Israeli consent, has been received cooly by the US and other powers in the past. They want a negotiated solution, though they do not consider Israel’s settlements or its claim on East Jerusalem legitimate.