Arab League Members at Odds Over Role in Mideast Peace Process

Syria: League has no authority to give PA license to continue negotiations; Abbas threatens to step down if Mideast talks break down, say aides.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas was at odds with several regional leaders this weekend over the role of the Arab League's monitoring committee on the Arab peace initiative, the London-based Al-Hayyat reported on Sunday.

Syrian President Bashar Assad in particular argued the Arab League's monitoring committee does not have the authority to give the Palestinian Authority license to continue negotiations.

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

At its conference in Libya, the committee gave Abbas support on Friday for his decision to suspend the direct talks with Israel as long as settlement construction continues, and resolved to reconvene in a month to examine alternatives to negotiations. It also expressed hope that the United States would pressure Israel to extend the construction freeze.

But Assad lambasted the league for focusing on the issue of West Bank settlements as a condition for peace talks, emphasizing that the Palestinian issue was one of territory and refugees.

He also said that Syria would not ask the Arab League for permission to enter negotiations with Israel, if and when the time comes.

Abbas, on the other hand, argued that the Palestinian issue was one that affected all Arabs. If the Arab League refused to intervene, he said, it would mean that it was giving up on the matter.

The Palestinian leader this weekend pleaded with Arab League members to pressure the United States to get Israel to impose an absolute moratorium on construction in the settlements in the West Bank.

Speaking at the Arab League summit in Libya, Abbas said that if the contacts with Israel do not progress the Arab states should consider going to the United Nations with a demand to recognize a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip in the 1967 borders.

Abbas has reportedly threatened to step down if Israel resumes building in West Bank settlements and the talks breakdown. Palestinian sources close to the PA leadership said Abbas made statements in that vein in his most recent meeting with U.S. Middle East envoy George Mitchell.

Abbas' resignation would lead to the dissolution of the PA, in light of the agreement reached by the leadership, after deliberations, that no other senior Fatah figure would consent to take his place and no new election would be held.

Last week Abbas told a reporter who accompanied him on a flight that it would be the journalist's last one with Abbas as president.

The Palestinian sources said that if the PA and the Palestinian security forces were dismantled, the Palestinians would demand that civil and security authority over the entire West Bank, including Area A and Area B, revert to Israel or be transferred to the United Nations.