Arab League Chief Calls Last 20 Years of Israeli-Palestinian Peace Negotiations 'Waste of Time'

In first West Bank visit, Nabil al-Arabi also calls for 'material and political support' for cash-strapped Palestinian Authority.

Top Arab officials paid a rare visit to the West Bank on Saturday to discuss a Palestinian financial crisis that President Mahmoud Abbas hopes will be eased by Arab donations.

Arab League Chief Nabil al-Arabi and Egyptian Foreign Minister Mohamed Kamel Amr congratulated the Palestinians on a successful United Nations status upgrade last month, but stopped short of promising the badly-needed funds.

"Palestine is in need of material and political support," al-Arabi told a news conference in the Palestinians' de facto capital of Ramallah.

"Arab countries agreed at their Baghdad summit (in March) for an Arab safety net of 100 million dollars each month, but unfortunately none of this has been achieved yet," he said.

"Our next move in agreement with the Palestinians and with full support from the Arab countries and the European Union is to change the current formula (for the peace process)," he added. "We cannot continue with the methods of the last 20 years. It was a waste of time."

According to al-Arabi, the Middle East conflict should be taken back to the United Nations Security Council after consulting with all parties, including the United States, "to discuss and agree on a new approach to this issue with a goal to end the conflict and not just to manage it."

Palestinians were cheered by a strong majority in the United Nations recognizing them as an "observer state" on Nov. 29 but have struggled to get Arab support to make up e100 million in shortfalls left by Israeli sanctions following the UN move.

Al-Arabi is the first Arab League Chief to visit Ramallah, but he and other prominent Arab and Islamic leaders, including the Egyptian prime minister, met Abbas's Palestinian Hamas rivals in Gaza during their brief war with Israel last month.

Hamas, which split from the West Bank after it seized control of the Gaza Strip in 2007, also won a diplomatic coup by receiving Emir Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, ruler of the oil-rich Gulf state of Qatar, who pledged e400 million in aid for the impoverished territory in October.

The emir postponed a visit to Ramallah he had announced this month, disappointing West Bank officials who had hoped he would arrive bearing gifts of cash.

West Bank officials have watched with worry as uprisings in the Arab world divert attention from their diplomatic strategy, which has failed to achieve an independent Palestinian state.

Hamas militants, by contrast, have been heartened as fellow-Islamists rise to power in Egypt and elsewhere.

Abbas has accused Israel of "piracy" after it withheld customs revenues it collects on the Palestinians' behalf, citing months of utilities bills Ramallah owes Israeli companies.

The financial crisis has forced the Palestinian Authority to delay salary payments to West Bank employees, who have gone on strike in protest. Abbas has responded by saying he might give up power and compel Israel to take on the Palestinians' affairs.

"Sit in the chair here instead of me, take the keys, and you will be responsible for the Palestinian Authority," Abbas warned Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, in an interview with Haaretz this week.

"I won't do anything as long as there are diplomatic negotiations," he said. "But if the stalemate continues... what's left for us to do?"