Arab League Endorses Palestinian Decision to Halt Peace Talks

League leaders, meeting in Libya, voice hope that U.S. will continue to exert pressure on Israel to freeze settlement construction.

An Arab League committee said on Friday it endorsed the decision of the Palestinian leadership to halt talks with Israel over renewed construction in West Bank settlements.

Abbas at Arab League meet in Libya, Reuters, October 8, 2010

The committee of Arab foreign ministers, which handles issues related to the peace process, also expressed hope that the United States would keep up pressure on Israel to halt settlement building, the group's chairman told reporters.

Arab League leaders met in Libya on Friday amid a crisis over Israel's refusal to extend a 10-month slowdown in settlement construction in the Palestinian territories.

A spokesman for Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said Friday that though the Arab states say direct peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians are not advancing, they want to keep the process going for now.

"The Arab follow-up committee will convene another meeting in the coming weeks to study the alternatives and the ideas that were presented by the president," Nabil Abu Rdainah told Reuters.

He did not elaborate on any "alternatives" aired by Abbas at the closed-door meeting.

But he denied reports there had been a recommendation to go back to indirect talks and to give Washington a one-month deadline to resolve the deadlock.

At the urging of Washington, the Arab foreign ministers were seeking ways to avert the collapse of the process launched by the White House just five weeks ago.

"There are no talks at the moment because the position of the Israelis is very, very negative. They are not cooperating in the negotiations," Arab League Secretary-General Amr Moussa said earlier on Friday, before hearing from Abbas.

He made clear the committee would not be telling the Palestinian president what to do next, but listening.

Abu Rdainah earlier said Abbas told U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in a telephone conversation on Thursday that "Israel must fully stop settlement activities so that the peace process can succeed."

"The Americans told us that they are continuing with their efforts with Israeli government. We are waiting to see the result of these efforts," he added.

U.S. State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley commented on Saturday on the Arab League's statements.

"We appreciate the Arab League's statement of support for our efforts to create conditions that will allow direct talks to move forward. 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 Crowley.

Launched in Washington on September 2, the talks veered into a dead end on Sept. 26 when Netanyahu refused to extend the 10-month halt to settlement he announced last November. Abbas has said he wants to go on negotiating but cannot unless Israeli building is frozen for "three to four months more to give peace a chance."