New York – The machinery of Mideast diplomacy is churning, and the product is likely to be a prolonging of the current impasse.
The Arab League is set to meet on Thursday in Cairo, where the body is expected to endorse Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’ decision not to proceed to direct talks with Israel, and instead continue to the current indirect talks.
Abbas and his advisors believe that entering more fruitless negotiations with the Netanyahu government would be, in their own words, political suicide, a speedy way to alienate their already weakened political base in the West Bank. They also believe Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is not serious about negotiations that would yield a Palestinian state, a point that was underscored by the release last week of a video that shows Netanyahu casually discussing his role in scuttling the Oslo process.
Still Abbas is apparently coming under immense pressure from the Obama administration to proceed to direct talks. Secretary of State Hilary Clinton was said to be “burning up the phone lines” this week working to get Arab leaders on board with direct talks.
But for now Abbas is not buckling, and has apparently added a settlement freeze to his list of preconditions for direct talks again, which would appear to be a more robust condition than his previous demands for “progress” in direct talks.
Meanwhile, in what could be an attempt to intensify US pressure on the Arab and Palestinian side, Netanyahu said Wednesday during a meeting with the visiting Spanish foreign minister that continuing the current partial settlement building moratorium would cause his coalition to collapse.
There are unlikely to be any surprises at the Arab League meeting in Cairo, were reports indicate that key rivals Syria and Saudi Arabia (in the midst of a show of unity to calm tensions in Lebanon) will back Abbas’ position. Chief PLO negotiator Saeb Erekat also said Wednesday that Jordan is onboard with Abbas, in spite of a surprise visit from Netanyahu on Tuesday. Arab League Secretary-General Amr Moussa is staunchly opposed to unconditional talks.
The Arab League’s backing is important for Abbas who faces a deeply skeptical public at home, and whose own party is reluctant to tie their fortunes to further fruitless negotiations.