Friday, July 30, 2010

U.S. 'encouraged' by Arab support for direct talks; Ball lands in Abbas's court

(Haaretz).The United States said Thursday it was "encouraged" by signs of Arab support for direct peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians, after the Arab League declared earlier that it would support the Palestinians if they decided to enter into such face-to-face talks.
Arab League meeting in Cairo

"We're encouraged by what we've heard today coming out of Cairo," State Department spokesman Philip Crowley told reporters, adding that U.S. President Barack Obama's administration is hopeful the negotiations resume soon.

Crowley said Qatari Prime Minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim al-Thani, acting on behalf of an Arab peace initiative, had sent a letter to Obama outlining ideas about how to move the process forward.

"We will, of course, be evaluating the ideas contained in that letter, and we'll be consulting further," Crowley said.

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak on Thursday also welcomed the Arab League announcement. The prime minister declared that he would be willing to enter into "direct and honest peace talks" within days, adding that "by way of direct negotiations, a speedy peace agreement can be achieved."

Barak, currently in Washington for a series of meetings with top administration officials, said that "only direct negotiations can bring a peace agreement and a solution of two states for two peoples."

"Negotiations will require difficult and brave decisions from both sides," Barak added. "I hope that the Palestinians understand that."

Earlier Thursday, the Qatari prime minister announced the Arab League's decision, saying that the Arab League would support Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas if he decided to enter direct talks with Israel.

Asked whether the league would back direct talks, Jassim said: "Of course, there is agreement, but agreement over the principles of what will be discussed and the manner of the direct negotiations."

It would be up to Abbas to decide whether to hold talks, based on whatever conditions he sees fit, Jassim said.

Jassim added that he was "full of doubts" about Israel's seriousness regarding final status negotiations.