US Secretary of State John Kerry’s peacemaking efforts became that much more difficult on Saturday, when the Arab League effectively rejected security arrangements he recently presented to Israel and the Palestinian Authority.
At an emergency meeting called at the request of PA President Mahmoud Abbas on Saturday, Arab League Secretary- General Nabil Elaraby said there could be not one Israeli soldier in the territory of a future Palestinian state.
Abbas briefed the Arab representatives on the current talks with Israel.
On two visits earlier this month Kerry presented to Abbas and Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu security “ideas” based on the work that a team of some 160 US officials, headed by retired US Marine Corps Gen. John Allen, drew up defining what it thought would be necessary for Israel’s security if a Palestinian state were created.
Those ideas reportedly included an IDF presence in the Jordan Valley for an extended period, between 10 and 15 years.
Netanyahu has for years been adamant in demanding an Israeli security presence – and not any kind of international force – along the Jordan River following a peace agreement with the Palestinians.
Abbas has rejected the idea.
One government official said the Arab world needed to understand that ignoring legitimate Israeli security concerns “is not going to bring about the creation of a Palestinian state.”
On the contrary, “only by engaging seriously with Israel on the security issues can this process move forward. Arabs countries that refuse to take Israeli security concerns seriously are not doing the Palestinians any favors,” the official said.
The league held Israel responsible for “hindering” the peace talks with the Palestinians and called to compel Israel to halt settlement construction.
Referring to Kerry’s proposal to maintain an Israeli presence in the Jordan Valley for several years, the Arab representatives reiterated their commitment to the establishment of an independent Palestinian state “on all the Palestinian lands occupied in 1967, with East Jerusalem as its capital,” in accordance with the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative and UN resolutions pertaining to the Israeli-Arab conflict.
The league was considered instrumental in getting Abbas to agree to reenter negotiations with Israel in late July, and its agreement to amend its peace initiative and include acceptance of the formula of a mutually agreed-upon land swap between Israel and the Palestinians has been hailed by Kerry as a major diplomatic step forward.
The league on Saturday also reiterated its opposition to “all Israeli plans and policies aimed at changing the demographic and geographic reality in the occupied Palestinian territories, including East Jerusalem.”
It called on the US and other permanent members of the Security Council, as well as the European Union and United Nations, to compel Israel to stop settlement activities and release all Palestinians held in Israeli prisons.
Chief PLO negotiator Saeb Erekat, who accompanied Abbas to the Cairo gathering, said that the PA president stressed his complete opposition to “interim or selective agreements.”
Erekat’s remarks are seen as a rejection of Kerry’s ideas.
Quoting Abbas, Erekat said that “any solution should be comprehensive regarding all final-status issues.”
Two weeks ago, US President Barack Obama discussed the possibility of a “framework agreement” emerging at the end of the current talks, which are scheduled to run until the end of April.
Reuters contributed to this report.