After indirect peace discussions between Israel and Palestine stalled in March with Israel’s controversial decision to construct 1,600 homes in East Jerusalem, the Arab League has voted to resume indirect peace proximity talks.
These talks, which the United States is set to mediate, are scheduled to resume this week. The announcement to expand Israeli control into East Jerusalem, which was made public while Vice President Joe Biden was in Israel, interrupted the initial plans to bring these two adversaries together. In protest, the Palestinians withdrew from the indirect discussions.
The United States responded to Israel’s bold declaration by insisting that Israel freeze its settlement plan. Despite U.S. pressure, Israel officially discarded this demand under the pretense that it should maintain control over all of Jerusalem. Contrary to this Israeli belief, Palestinians hope that East Jerusalem will one day serve as their capital, pending the creation of a Palestinian state.
Israel and Palestine have not engaged in direct peace talks since late 2008 when Israel invaded Gaza. Since this skirmish, which Israel says was prompted by hostile militant rocket fire over an extended period of time, Israel has advocated peace talks without preconditions.
Palestine, however, firmly maintains that Israel must freeze settlement building inside Palestinian territories it acquired after the 1967 Arab-Israeli War. Although Israel still refused to accede to a total freeze, it did concede to a partial postponement in construction.
Those like Saeb Erakat, the chief Palestinian negotiator, have made it clear that for peace to prosper, Israel must cease their settlement plans. In addition to Palestine’s reservations regarding Israeli expansion into occupied East Jerusalem, the Arab League reiterated the need for an Israeli halt prior to direct peace talks.
Although concerns are still prevalent, the Arab League issued statements of support for the indirect talks to continue. The Arab League is a regional association composed of member states ranging from Southwest Asia to North and North East Africa.
Even with such an endorsement for the proximity talks, those in the Arab League, such as the Qatari Prime Minister Hamad bin Jasim bin Jabir al-Thanistill, are hesitant to trust Israel.
However, regardless of any possible reservations, the Arab League’s decision provides the political clout necessary for Palestinian Pres. Mahmoud Abbas to protect his faction, the Fatah Party, from public disapproval. The United States is credited with aiding in this decision as shown by its continued diplomatic endeavors. Israel has also shown approval of such a backing by the Arab League.
These talks are anticipated to last several months and will serve as a precursor to any direct negotiations. However, before these indirect talks will take place, the political factions located in the West Bank will first have to approve the plan.