Arab FMs Oppose Mideast Talks Without U.S. Stance on Borders

Qatari FM: Arabs skeptical that U.S. can pressure Israel on core issues after failure to get Israel to renew settlement freeze.

Arab foreign ministers spoke out Wednesday against any talks between Israel and the Palestinians, direct or indirect, unless the United States takes a firm stance on the future borders of a Palestinian state.


From left, U.S. Mideast envoy George Mitchell, Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat and Palestinian Pr

The Arab position, reflecting growing Palestinian frustration, is pushing the U.S. to endorse the original 1967 borders as the baseline for negotiations between the two parties.

While the Arabs are not backing a return to negotiations at this stage, they are not advocating any alternatives yet, such as a unilateral declaration of a Palestinian state.

The United States' peace efforts suffered a major setback after Washington abandoned efforts to coax Israel to freeze Jewish settlement in areas the Palestinians want for a future state.

Last week, American officials said they would keep talking to both sides and now plan to discuss the so-called core issues of the conflict, including the borders of a Palestinian state and security arrangements, separately with Israelis and Palestinians.

The negotiation track between the Palestinians and Israelis is futile. There is no return to talks. Any resumption is conditioned on a serious offer that ensures the end to the Arab-Israeli conflict based on the peace process references, a final statement from the Arab ministers said.

The Palestinians say they want a state in the West Bank, Gaza and east Jerusalem territories captured by Israel in the 1967 Mideast War. They say they are willing to swap 1.9 percent of the land to enable Israel to keep some of the settlements.

The ministers said the failure of Washington to force Israel to stop settlement building on territories occupied in 1967 demands that the American administration declares clearly the two states' borders be based on the 1967 borders.

Israel has not agreed to the idea of the 1967 as a baseline. Some parties in Israel's coalition government oppose any land concession, while others are ready to make them, but on a lesser scale than what the Palestinians would consider acceptable.

Qatar's Foreign Minister Sheik Hamad bin Jassem Al Thani said the Arabs are skeptical the U.S. will be able to pressure Israel on core issues if it failed to force a settlement freeze, saying during his opening statement that the Arabs can't provide support for the return to talks, whether direct or indirect, under these circumstances.

Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas has relied on an Arab League endorsement to give himself political coverage before engaging first in indirect and then direct talks with the Israelis.

The Israeli position is now becoming clear that it attempts to divert the negotiation track into what the Israeli government wants, and to render the peace everyone is talking about into a peace with an Israeli hue without any consideration for the Palestinian and Arab rights, said Sheik Hamad.

But the Qatari minister said Arabs and the Palestinians at this stage are unable to pursue any other solutions but the peace talks.

At least this time, we will stop the talks until the Americans can come up with something new.
The U.S. Mideast envoy returned to the region on Monday, seeking to revive the troubled peace efforts and met with the two sides, and with Egypt's president and the secretary general of the Arab League.

U.S. State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said as the meeting was underway that Washington continues to look for ongoing support by regional players on our joint efforts.

U.S. Secretary of State Hilary Clinton has said she wants to push the parties to address core issues that have repeatedly scuttled two decades of peace efforts: the final borders between Israel and a future Palestine, the fate of millions of Palestinian refugees displaced as a result of Israel's creation in 1948, and resolving the disputing claims to east Jerusalem, home to sensitive Jewish, Muslim and Christian holy sites.

But the administration has said little on how it will pursue these goals.