Arab leaders: We’ll try to relaunch Israeli-Palestinian peace talks

JERUSALEM (JTA) — Arab leaders declared their willingness to help advance the two-state solution, signaling that Palestinian demands would have to be addressed before, not after, any regional embrace of Israel.

The closing statement of the annual Arab League Summit, hosted by Jordan, said Wednesday that members would “continue to work to relaunch serious Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations.” “Peace is a strategic objective,” the statement said.

The Arab League’s reaffirmation of its 2002 Arab Peace Initiative is a blow to the Israeli proposal explored by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of normalization with some Arab states ahead of a deal with the Palestinians.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has demanded bilateral negotiations toward a Palestinian state in the West Bank, the Gaza Strip and eastern Jerusalem. Netanyahu formally supports the creation of a Palestinian state, but has said it is not feasible in the foreseeable future. He has claimed Jerusalem will remain the united capital of Israel and last week declared construction throughout the city non-negotiable.

Abbas met with Jordan’s King Abdullah II and Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi on the sidelines of the summit ahead of the leaders’ White House meetings in coming weeks.

“In this meeting, positions were coordinated in what should be said or focused on regarding the Palestinian issue” the Palestinian Foreign Ministry said in a statement, adding that Abbas would seek to “influence” the administration’s position on Mideast diplomacy.

Syrian President Bashar Assad was not at the summit. Syria was suspended from the 22-member Arab League after Assad’s crackdown on a 2011 uprising that had become a bloody civil war.

President Donald Trump has said he wants to broker a deal between Israel and the Palestinians but has yet to put forward concrete policy proposals.

His Orthodox Jewish international envoy, Jason Greenblatt, attended the summit and held talks with Abbas and the foreign ministers of Jordan, Egypt and Qatar. According to the U.S. Embassy in Jordan, Greenblatt conveyed the president’s belief that a peace deal “is not only possible, but would reverberate positively throughout the region and the world.”

On Wednesday, stopping in Jerusalem en route to the summit, Greenblatt asked a haredi Orthodox rabbi for his advice on handling “this task.” The rabbi replied that a person who intends to make peace will receive divine assistance.

During Netanyahu’s visit to the White House last month, Trump shrugged off the two-decade U.S. commitment to the two-state solution, saying he would abide by what the Israelis and Palestinians decide. But members of his administration have since endorsed the framework.

Trump also told Netanyahu he would like to see Israel “hold back on settlements a little bit.” Earlier in February, Trump had said settlement expansion “may not be helpful” in achieving peace.

Trump has backed off a campaign promise to move the Israeli Embassy to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv. The summit declared its opposition to countries moving their diplomatic missions in Israel to Jerusalem.

On Wednesday, Israel’s security cabinet gave the go-ahead for the building of the first new settlement in two decades.

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