Abbas to Convene Palestinian Leadership to Decide on Resumption of Talks With Israel

U.S. envoy John Kerry urges Israel to carefully consider the 2002 Arab League peace initiative, which it rejected in the past.

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Optimism wafted in from Amman on Wednesday about the potential resumption of the peace process, after U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry won Arab League backing for his effort to restart Israeli-Palestinian negotiations.

Sources in both Jerusalem and Ramallah believe the chances that a resumption of talks will be announced in the next few days are high. But the Prime Minister’s Office has maintained strict silence with regard to Kerry’s meetings in Amman.

The nine foreign ministers of Arab League countries who met with Kerry in Amman said they gave Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas their full backing to return to the negotiating table. They also praised Kerry’s efforts.

“The Arab delegates believe Kerry’s ideas proposed to the committee today constitute a good ground and suitable environment for restarting the negotiations, especially the new and important political, economic and security elements,” their statement said.

The statement followed a five-hour meeting in Amman between Kerry and Abbas and a meeting Abbas held with the Arab League delegation.

Abbas will convene the Palestinian leadership in Ramallah on Thursday for a decisive meeting on whether to resume talks with Israel or not. The Arab League’s announcement was apparently aimed at boosting Abbas’ credibility as he faces the senior members of the PLO Executive Committee, many of whom are reluctant to resume diplomatic contacts with Israel.

A PLO source told Haaretz that Abbas had pressed to hold the meeting on Thursday, even though a meeting with the leadership had already been scheduled for Saturday. Abbas’ office described Wednesday’s meeting as “urgent.”

“I don’t know what this means, but there’s no doubt that something’s cooking,” the PLO official said. “We in the leadership have no new information, since the meetings the president held with Kerry were either one-on-one or held in a very limited forum.”

After meeting the Arab League representatives in Amman, Kerry said he believed he was close to breaking the impasse in the peace process, adding that the gaps between the Israelis and Palestinians had been greatly narrowed.

Kerry also urged Israel to carefully consider the 2002 Arab League peace initiative, which it rejected in the past.

“Israel needs to look hard at this initiative, which promises Israel peace with 22 Arab nations and 35 Muslim nations − a total of 57 nations that are standing and waiting for the possibility of making peace with Israel,” he said.

The plan, put forward by Saudi Arabia at an Arab League summit in Beirut in 2002, offered full recognition of Israel, but only if it gave up all land seized in the 1967 Six-Day War and agreed to a “just solution” for Palestinian refugees.

Softening the plan three months ago, a top Qatari official raised the possibility of land swaps in setting future Israeli-Palestinian borders.

A senior Palestinian official said he believed Abbas planned to return to the negotiating table for a limited time so the Palestinians would not be perceived as recalcitrant. He added that Palestinian morale had been boosted by the European Union announcement that it planned to formally distinguish between Israel and the territories, including East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights, for purposes of funding and cooperation.

A source involved in the contacts with Kerry said on Wednesday that if there had been any kind of breakthrough, it had happened within the previous 24 hours.

“From conversations I had with people directly involved in the talks in recent days, they seemed pretty pessimistic,” he said. “It could be that during the last two meetings there was some development, despite the pessimism and despite the total lack of faith that [Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu could offer a suggestion or formula that would lead to the renewal of talks. This is due to the remarks made by some of his ministers in recent days and the decision to approve construction of hundreds of new housing units in the settlements.”

The Civil Administration in the West Bank on Wednesday gave the go-ahead for the construction of 732 new homes in the ultra-Orthodox city of Modi’in Ilit and 19 homes in Kfar Adumim.

“These are very preliminary stages,” an Israeli spokeswoman said, after the Civil Administration’s Supreme Planning Council gave the green light for the projects. “Any more advanced stages require the approval of the Defense Ministry.”

Abbas has said settlement expansion must stop before the negotiations that collapsed in 2010 can resume. Netanyahu has called on him to return to talks unconditionally.

If the PLO gives Abbas the go-ahead, Kerry is widely expected to issue a statement saying the talks will resume on the basis of the pre-1967 lines with possible land swaps, and that the goal is two states for two peoples.

The Palestinians are expected to commit to not making any unilateral moves against Israel in the United Nations, while Israel will commit to restricting building in the settlements during the talks, releasing a few dozen Palestinian prisoners and making other gestures.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, back to camera, meeting with Arab League officials in Jordan on Wednesday, July 18th, 2013.Credit: Reuters