The Middle East situation is heading to a crescendo, for sure...
UNITED NATIONS – The head of the Arab League and the Egyptian foreign minister on Friday urged President Barack Obama to present his own outline of an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal, in order to break the current logjam and spur negotiations.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas remain far apart on what it takes to return to peace talks, despite vigorous U.S. mediation this week, including an Obama-hosted meeting of the two leaders.
The key disputes are over continued Israeli settlement construction and what should be on the agenda of future talks.
Abbas says he won't resume talks without an internationally mandated settlement freeze. He insists that talks resume where they broke off last year, under Netanyahu's more pragmatic predecessor, and that all issues be on the table. Netanyahu says a partition of Jerusalem and a possible repatriation of Palestinian refugees are not up for discussion.
On Friday, Abbas told the U.N. General Assembly that "the settlement policy ... will abort opportunities to relaunch the peace process" and warned that time for a deal is running out. He said international peace efforts have been "confronted by Israeli intransigence, which refuses to adhere to the requirements for relaunching the peace process."
In reiterating his position on the world stage, Abbas signaled that he's not prepared to budge.
Netanyahu has been equally insistent on his right to keep building, even though an internationally backed peace blueprint of 2003 — also accepted by Israel — demands a halt to construction.
Amr Moussa, secretary general of the 23-member Arab League, said Friday, in response to a question, that it would be "very useful" to hear from Obama what he considers to be the parameters of a fair peace agreement. Such a framework "would trigger a very viable, useful process of peace," Moussa told a news conference.
Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit also urged Obama to set parameters, with the backing of the international community.
Aboul Gheit said such a deal should be based on the idea of a Palestinian state in the territories occupied by Israel in the 1967 Mideast war, with east Jerusalem as a capital. A framework should also state that Israelis and Palestinians agree to live in peace and security, and outline steps toward normalization, he said.
This outline "would allow the parties to negotiate the end ," Aboul Gheit told The Associated Press in an interview, after meeting earlier in the day with Obama's Mideast envoy, George Mitchell.
Asked why such a framework hasn't been presented, Aboul Gheit said: "Maybe they are allowing the process to continue ... to the moment where people would recognize that making reference to the end will be acceptable by the parties."
For now, the U.S. hopes to create enough common ground to allow peace talks to resume.
Israeli and Palestinian teams are to meet separately next week with U.S. mediators in Washington, and Obama has asked for a progress report by Oct. 15.
Meanwhile, Abbas got a boost from the Quartet of Mideast mediators and the Arab League.
The Quartet, made up of the United States, Europe, the United Nations and Russia, said Thursday that peace talks must "resolve all permanent status issues." That would include the future of Jerusalem and the fate of refugees, issues Netanyahu says he doesn't want to talk about. The Quartet also renewed its call for a settlement freeze.
Moussa, meanwhile, said the Arab world is not prepared to take any steps toward normalization with Israel without a settlement freeze.
Obama had hoped for a package deal, in which Arab gestures, such as over flight rights for civilian Israeli aircraft, would prod Netanyahu to halt settlement construction.
The Arab League chief said he does not believe Israel is serious about peace, and that the Arab world does not intend to give a gift to Netanyahu at a time when Israel defies the international community over settlements.
But both Obama and Aboul Gheit welcomed Obama's strong commitment to finding a solution and said it must continue.