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Palestinians to decide future of talks

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abbas-moussaBy Hashem Ahelbarra

Peace talks between the Palestinians and the Israelis have once again shipwrecked on an ocean of semantic squabbling.

Relaunched in September, the talks have tested a core premise of the American diplomatic effort in the Middle East: bringing the two sides to sit down and hammer out a comprehensive peace deal that would pave the way to the creation of a Palestinian state.

After three rounds of direct talks in Washington, DC, the Egyptian resort of Sharm el Sheikh and Jerusalem, negotiations collapsed when Binyamin Netanyahu, Israel's prime minister, refused to extend a moratorium on illegal settlement construction in the West Bank.

The Palestinians and the Israelis haven't had a chance to tackle core issues: the borders of the future state, security, the refugees, Jerusalem and the settlements.

US officials fear the ongoing impasse will further complicate their mission and make hopes of an accord nearly impossible.

Arab powwow

Now eyes are turned to a powwow of Arab leaders in the Libyan coastal city of Sirte. The outcome of the meeting will most likely give clear indications as to whether the Palestinians will return to the negotiating table or not.

Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president, is expected to brief Arab leaders on what happened during the talks and ask for their backing in the final statement of the summit.

If the summit endorses the decision of the Palestinians to stay away from talks with the Israelis, Abbas will have more leverage in future encounters with US officials. He can confidently tell them that he cannot betray an Arab decision.

But even if the US puts all of its resources and shuttle diplomacy to achieving a positive outcome, winning a yes for resuming talks from Arab leaders may not be an easy task.

Public opinion in the Arab world is against the resumption of talks under the pro-settlements right-wing government in Israel. Arab leaders will undoubtedly echo the same sentiment in Sirte.

Since its establishment in 1945, the Arab League has been incapable of laying down the foundations for a regional institution with sound political and economic strategies.

Ties between some member states are strained, while key players like Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Syria are occasionally embroiled in rows over who should lead the Arab world.

Hashem Ahelbarra is a roving Middle East correspondent for Al Jazeera English.


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