Indirect Mideast Talks Off Again, Arab League Says

By Patrick Goodenough | March 11, 2010 | 4:41 AM EST

( – Palestinian Authority chairman Mahmoud Abbas has decided to withdraw from indirect U.S.-mediated talks with Israel that were supposed to begin soon, in the latest fallout over plans to build more housing in the Israeli capital.
Abbas’ decision was announced by the head of the Arab League, Amr Moussa, after the organization held an emergency meeting of Arab ambassadors in Cairo to discuss the issue.
The Arab League also recommended that its 22 member states withdraw the support their foreign ministers extended just a week ago to the indirect, or “proximity” talks, citing the Jerusalem “settlement” construction plans.
“The Israeli measures must be stopped before any discussion on a resumption of [Israeli-Palestinian] talks, direct or indirect,” the Arab League said in a statement.
Controversy erupted on Tuesday when a Jerusalem district planning committee announced plans to build 1,600 new housing units in a neighborhood in the north of the city, an area the Palestinians want to include in a future state.
The announcement coincided with a visit to Israel by Vice President Joe Biden, who used strong language in condemning the decision, saying it was undermining the trust needed if the planned negotiations were to be productive.
The Israeli government minister under whose department the planning committee falls later apologized for the timing of the announcement.
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu instructed that any future planning decisions that could have diplomatic or security implications should be cleared with him in advance. He did not reverse the decision.
Divided before June 1967, with the west under Israeli control and Jordan holding the eastern sections, Jerusalem was reunited under Israel as a result of the Six Day War.
Netanyahu’s government, like its predecessors, does not accept that any part of Jerusalem lying within the municipal boundaries drawn up after the reunification constitutes a “settlement.”
Because of this, it differentiates between construction in the city and elsewhere in the disputed West Bank. Netanyahu agreed under U.S. pressure last year to temporarily freeze new settlement building, but does not include Jerusalem in that policy.
Joining Biden, Abbas and the Arab League in condemning the housing announcement were both the British government and European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, who called on Netanyahu to reverse the housing decision.
Patrick Goodenough
Patrick Goodenough
Spencer Journalism Fellow