CAIRO (AP) — The head of the Arab League said Thursday he is confident that Israel and the Palestinians soon will resolve a crisis over the release of long-held Palestinian prisoners and extend their U.S.-brokered peace talks beyond an April deadline.
Nabil Elaraby told The Associated Press that the April 29 deadline would be extended “for months” and rejected the idea that the talks have failed to make progress.
“I believe that negotiations are going to be resumed for several months and we hope that this will be the end of it,” he said at the Nile-side Cairo headquarters of the Arab League.
Elaraby did not elaborate, but he did say that he “had contact” with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, who is leading the talks.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas also is in Egypt, where he met with Egyptian leaders and held talks with European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton. Elaraby also met with Ashton.
As Elaraby spoke, Israeli and Palestinian negotiators met again with U.S. mediators in hopes of breaking the impasse.
“We continue to talk. No one has given up, but we’re not there yet,” an Israeli official said. “And I can’t tell you I’m sure we will succeed.”
The official spoke on condition of anonymity because the sides have pledged to Kerry not to discuss the talkswith journalists.
Under heavy pressure from Kerry, Israel and the Palestinians resumed negotiations last July, agreeing to hold nine months of talks with the aim of reaching a final peace agreement. With little to show for his efforts, Kerry later scaled back his goal and said he would try to reach a “framework” deal by the April deadline, hoping to extend negotiations through the end of the year.
But even that more modest goal has been elusive. Kerry is now merely trying to get the sides to continuetalking past April 29.
Under the terms of the current talks, Israel agreed to release 104 of the longest-serving Palestinian prisoners it holds in four groups. In exchange, the Palestinians suspended their campaign for international recognition of the “state of Palestine” in U.N. and other international bodies.
The talks hit a snag after Israel failed to carry out the fourth and final promised prisoner release late last month. It then approved plans to build 700 new homes in east Jerusalem, the section of the city claimed by the Palestinians. The Palestinians responded by signing letters of accession to join 15 international conventions.
Israel has since imposed a series of sanctions on the Palestinians — halting high-level contacts and blocking the transfer of advanced mobile-phone equipment to the Gaza Strip. It also says it will not carry out the final prisoner release.
Kerry’s Mideast envoy, Martin Indyk, has been meeting with negotiators from both sides all week in hopes of finding a formula to get the talks back on track.
Elaraby’s comments came a day after Arab foreign ministers meeting in the Cairo-headquartered Arab League blamed Israel for the lack of progress in the peace talks and granted Abbas the political and financial covered he wanted in the face of what he sees as Israel’s unreasonable approach to the talks.