Arab world reluctant over Mideast peace talks
PARIS // Qatar faulted Israel for building Jewish settlements yesterday after John Kerry briefed Arab diplomats in an effort to garner support for nascent Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations.
The comment by the Qatari foreign minister, Khaled Al Attiya, while consistent with long-standing Arab positions, may have been less than what the United States secretary of state might have hoped for as he seeks to build momentum for the talks, which resumed on July 29.
"There are obstacles," Mr Al Attiya said, after he met the foreign ministers of the UAE, Bahrain, Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia, along with other Arab officials.
"We are talking about settlements," he said. "Each time a round of negotiations is supposed to start, it's preceded by a declaration of continued settlements or the announcement of the establishment of new settlements. This is a source of concern for us and directly affects the negotiations."
Mr Kerry, said it was vital that all sides, including the Arab world, offer support to both parties as they try to make peace.
"This meeting is almost as important as the negotiations themselves because the Arab League and the Arab community's support for a final status agreement is essential to the achievement of that agreement," he said. "It is a critical component in creating momentum, energy and seriousness of purpose in these talks."
The resumption of Israeli-Palestinian peace talks after a nearly three-year hiatus is one of Mr Kerry's major achievements since taking office on February 1, but sources close to the talks said little progress had been made.
US officials have refused to provide any information about the substance of the talks, declining even to say how many times Israeli and Palestinian negotiators have met since the talks began.
Mr Kerry publicly reiterated his private call on the European Union on Saturday to postpone a planned ban on financial assistance to Israeli organisations in the occupied Palestinian territories, saying this would help the talks.
The EU imposed restrictions in July, citing frustration over the continued expansion of Jewish settlements in territory captured by Israeli forces in the 1967 Middle East War.
The guidelines render Israeli entities operating in the occupied territories ineligible for EU grants, prizes or loans, beginning next year.
They angered Israel's right-wing government, which accused the Europeans of harming peace efforts and responded by announcing curbs on EU aid projects for thousands of West Bank Palestinians.
Palestinians praised the guidelines as a concrete step against settlement construction on Israeli-occupied land, which they fear will deny them a viable state.
On Saturday, the EU foreign policy chief, Catherine Ashton, said the EU would send a team, headed by a senior diplomat, to Israel today to make sure the implementation of the new guidelines was done sensitively.
"We of course want to continue having a strong relationship with Israel," she said.
Meanwhile, the Israeli government yesterday approved the allocation of 5,000 work permits for Palestinians from the West Bank, enabling them to work in Israel, an Israeli official said.
"The initial resolution stated that it was within the framework of the peace negotiations with the Palestinians and efforts to improve the Palestinian economy," the official said.
"But several ministers opposed this phrasing, saying there was no reason to improve the Palestinian economy when the Palestinians don't miss an opportunity to back boycotts against Israel's economy."
Since the start in 2000 of the second Palestinian uprising, Israel has limited the number of permits it grants Palestinians to enter for work, medical treatment or other needs.
In addition to the newly approved 5,000 permits, nearly 70,000 Palestinians have permanent work permits for Israel, according to a defence official.
* With additional reporting by Agence France-Presse
Updated: September 9, 2013 04:00 AM