Arab League Foreign Ministers have agreed to a four-month resumption of talks between Israel and Palestinians during a Cairo meeting Wednesday. Talks have been frozen since an Israeli assault on Gaza began in December 2008.
Arab League Secretary-General Amr Moussa gave a downbeat assessment of the state of Arab-Israeli relations, but concluded by supporting the resumption of indirect Palestinian-Israeli peace talks. Those talks, he stressed, should last for no more than four months.
He says that despite the lack of conviction on our part about Israel's seriousness in achieving a just peace, we're going to give one last chance to indirect negotiations because of pressure from the United States and after reassurances that the U.S. has given to Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas. But, he adds, these indirect talks will not last indefinitely, so we've put a four month limit on them.
Moussa also insisted that Israel end its settlement policy for real negotiations to take place. Palestinian negotiators have been saying for weeks that they would only return to the negotiating table if Israel halted all settlement activity in the occupied West Bank.
Despite the Arab green light to resume indirect Palestinian-Israeli talks, Amr Moussa painted a bleak picture of the possibility of achieving peace, given what he called Israeli "provocation".
He says that Arab foreign ministers have concluded that [direct] negotiations with Israel under the current circumstances are not feasible and will produce no results, due to Israeli actions on a daily basis toward Jerusalem and the Aqsa mosque, to Hebron, and with settlements in the West Bank.
Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al Muallem also sparred with Amr Moussa repeatedly during the open portion of the foreign minister's session, insisting that the decision to negotiate with Israel belonged to the Palestinians themselves and not to Arab foreign ministers.
He argues that it is not within the purview of the Arab foreign minister's committee to decide to resume talks with Israel or not. The decision to negotiate, he insists, belongs to the Palestinians, and the Palestinians alone.
Syria, which is home to dissident Palestinian Hamas faction leader Khaled Meshaal, has taken a consistently hard line over peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians. Damascus also insists that Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas' term in office ended in January 2009, making him ineligible to negotiate.
President Abbas indicated, before the conclusion of Wednesday's Arab League foreign minister's meeting, that he would base his decision on whether to resume indirect talks with Israel on the verdict of that meeting.
Direct negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians were frozen after Israel launched an air and ground assault against the Hamas-run Gaza Strip in December 2008.