Propaganda began to flow as soon as US and Arab League officials hit the media. The headline: Arab League backs Palestinians on restarting talks. And the very opening sentence: “Arab nations on Thursday backed the Palestinian president's refusal to immediately restart direct talks with Israel despite heavy U.S. pressure.”
Now it’s true that the Arab League has endorsed direct talks between the Palestinian Authority and Israel. Technically US State Department Spokesman Philip Crowley is accurate when saying, "We are encouraged by reports that Arab states meeting in Cairo agree on the need to resume direct negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians to reach a final status agreement.”
"We feel the time is right [for direct talks]," Crowley said. "We hope to have these negotiations begin quite soon, but obviously there are still decisions to be made."
The Arab League does believe that direct negotiations are the only means to reach a final status agreement. It just hasn’t approved of them yet - it believes in the time but not the environment. And the truth is being jumbled in the competition for perceptions, all sides desperate to portray their own line as successful. Qatari Prime Minister Sheik Hamad bin Jassem Al Thani told reporters, "We are sure that Israel is not serious about the peace process. Israel just wants to waste time. We have confidence in America and in President Obama to reach peace, but the question is can that be achieved?”
Sounds like a paradox. Expressing that he's "full of doubts" in Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Al Thani said the Arab League also sent a letter to Obama explaining the price of direct talks: a settlement freeze.
Amr Moussa, the Arab League secretary-general, said that direct negotiations must be preceded by "written guarantees" from the United States, “particularly on the subject of Israeli settlements.” Nabil Abu Rdainah, an aide to Abbas, explained, "There is a green light from the Arabs to go to direct negotiations if we receive terms of reference... in line with the letter.”
Said Moussa: "We know that Netanyahu is not serious. But we are addressing the US because the Americans are addressing us. We won't enter negotiations without a time limit or a reference, as was the case in the past. The Israelis are playing a political game by winning time. This is what we are trying to prevent by proving that they are not serious."
On cue Netanyahu, like US officials, ignored the request completely in a statement from his office: "In response to the Arab League's decision, the prime minister said he is willing to begin direct, honest talks with the Palestinian Authority already in the next few days.”
He could if he freezes settlement activity in the West Bank in Jerusalem. Abbas said before the Arab League meeting, "When I receive written assurances [about] accepting the 1967 borders and halting settlement [building], I will go immediately to the direct talks.”
But with US and Israeli officials doing everything in their power to circumvent this demand, the status of direct talks remains in limbo. So close and yet so far.