CAIRO (Reuters) - The Arab League called on the United States on Wednesday to keep up efforts to salvage Middle East peace talks that are on the brink of collapse, blaming Israel for a crisis that has led Washington to evaluate its role in the negotiations.
At a meeting of Arab foreign ministers in Cairo, the Arab League said Israel was responsible for the “serious predicament” facing the negotiations, citing its failure to release about two dozen Palestinian prisoners as one of the major causes.
“(The ministers) called on America to continue its efforts for the resumption of the negotiation track that obliges Israel to implement its commitments ... according to the agreed time frame,” a League statement said.
The U.S.-brokered negotiations plunged into crisis last week after Israel, demanding a Palestinian commitment to continue talking after the end of the month, failed to carry out the promised release of about two dozen Palestinian prisoners.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas responded by signing 15 global treaties, including the Geneva Conventions on the conduct of war and occupations, on behalf of the State of Palestine, a defiant move that surprised Washington and angered Israel.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, who had hoped to reach a peace deal by April 29, said on Friday that Washington was evaluating whether it was worth continuing its role in the Middle East talks, saying it was “not an open-ended effort”.
Israel announced on Wednesday a partial freeze in high-level contacts with the Palestinians in retaliation for their signing international conventions it contends they are not entitled to endorse before formal establishment of a state.
Underscoring the Palestinians’ main concern - economic measures imposed by Israel - the Arab League said Arab states must meet their financial commitments to the Palestinian Authority “to provide an Arab financial safety net”.
Under interim peace deals, Israel collects and transfers to the PA some $100 million a month in taxes on goods imported into the Palestinian territories. Israel has previously frozen the payments during times of heightened tensions.
Though Israel did not mention such measures on Wednesday, Palestinian Foreign Minister Riyad al-Malki said the Israeli government had “indicated” this morning it would withhold the revenues. He did not say how that message had been delivered.
“We are committed as Palestinians and Arabs to the negotiation process and the April 29 date and continuing to deal with the efforts that the American administration and John Kerry are making to find a way out of this crisis,” he said.
Writing by Tom Perry; Editing by Michael Georgy and Ralph Boulton