Arab League blames Israel for talks stalemate

Netanyahu orders cutback on high-level contacts with the Palestinian Authority

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The Arab League on Wednesday blamed Israel for “the dangerous stalemate” in U.S.-brokered peace talks scheduled to end on April 29.

Arab foreign ministers held an emergency meeting with Palestinian leader Mahmud Abbas after Israel backtracked on releasing a final batch of Palestinian prisoners and reissued tenders for 708 settler homes in east Jerusalem.

On Tuesday, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry also blamed the approval of Israeli settlements in annexed Arab east Jerusalem for derailing peace talks with the Palestinians, but accused both sides of intransigence.

The Palestinians responded to the Israeli decision regarding the prisoners by applying to adhere to 15 international treaties, breaking their own commitment to refrain from such action during the nine months of talks.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meanwhile ordered a cutback on high-level contacts with the Palestinian Authority regarding non-security related issues.

Israeli government officials said Netanyahu has exempted his chief peace negotiator from the ban.

An Israeli government official was quoted by Reuters as saying the move was a response to the “Palestinians’ grave violation of their commitments in the framework of the peace talks.”

The tit-for-tat moves came as a major blow to Kerry’s frenetic efforts to find a way to extend the fragile peace talks beyond an April 29 deadline.

“Despite all, we are committed, as Palestinians and Arabs, to the negotiation process and the efforts exerted by Kerry in order to find a way out of this crisis,” Palestinian Foreign Minister Riyad al-Malki said, according to AFP.

Arab League chief Nabil al-Arabi accused the Israelis of dragging their feet in the talks, telling reporters: “Gaining time is a strategic objective for Israel.”

The talks have teetered on the brink of collapse, with Washington fighting an uphill battle to get the two sides to agree to a framework proposal to extend the negotiations to the year’s end.

Israel says its release of each batch of prisoners was conditional on progress in negotiations.

(With AFP)