Arab League: Successful talks contingent on Israel settlement freeze

A moratorium on Israeli settlement-building activity in the occupied Palestinian territories is essential for the success of direct peace negotiations between the Palestinian Authority (PA) and Israel, according to Arab League Assistant Secretary-General for Palestinian Affairs Mohamed Sobeih.

"The negotiations will focus on five key issues, beginning with the border issue, which will conclusively determine the structure of the Palestinian state," Sobeih told reporters on Monday.

The league would support Palestinian negotiators during the talks, he asserted, the second round of which is due to commence Tuesday in the Red Sea resort city of Sharm el-Sheikh. The negotiations are being led by PA President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the presence of US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

Sobeih expressed his surprise over Israel's continued construction of Jewish-only settlements in Jerusalem, the West Bank and the Golan Heights, "despite all of its talk about its commitment to freeze settlement activity."

A ten-month moratorium on Israeli settlement construction is due to expire on 26 September. While it remains unclear whether the moratorium will be extended, Israeli human rights watchdog Peace Now on Monday announced that the Netanyahu government had plans to approve more than 13,000 new settlement units on Palestinian land.

According to Sobeih, the league supports Abbas's insistence on the necessity to freeze all settlement activity, which, he said, would improve the chances of a successful outcome to negotiations. Sobeih said he had been "taken aback" by the preconditions set by Netanyahu for the latest round of talks, particularly the Israeli premier's demand that Abbas recognize Israel as a "Jewish state."

"How can they force the Palestinians to recognize Israel as a Jewish state when the Israelis themselves don't agree on exactly what constitutes Jewishness?" he asked.

"Talk of a Jewish state equals talk of an ethnic state," Sobeih added. "This sidesteps the issue of refugees, which is an issue that concerns all Arab countries."

Translated from the Arabic Edition.

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