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Israel-Palestine Analysis: What Message Has the Arab League Sent? (And To Whom?) 

On Thursday, the Arab League supposedly made its decision. The Qatari prime minister Hamed Ben Jasem al-Thani announced that the group would support Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas if he decided to enter negotiations with Israel. Many newspapers reported that the Arab League gave the "green light" for direct talks.

Did it?

In a letter to the Obama Administration, the League stated that it needed a clear timeframe, specific terms of reference, and a monitoring mechanism to support direct talks. Indeed, al-Thani said, "There is agreement, but only about the way the talks will be held and the subjects that will be discussed."

That's not a green light but a yellow one. The Arab League has avoided blame as "the supporter of Palestinians at any cost" and saved its credibility in the eyes of the US. At the same time it has not given an unqualified endorsement of discussions.

So, where is the ball? It may seem like it is in the court of Ramallah --- will Abbas finally ease back on his insistence that the Israelis commit now to the 1967 borders and to a freeze on settlements? --- but it is actually in Washington. With its own "conditions", the League has supported Abbas' call for a clear definition on the borders and any land swaps and for a transparent timetable for discussions and implementation of measures. Arab League chief Amr Moussa reiterated, "I assure you I am not of the intention to enter into negotiations, without a time frame, without clear references and without monitoring."

The question: will the Obama Administration insist on prominent steps by Israel, steps beyond the chant of "talks, talks, talks", before the settlements freeze ends on 26 September?

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