Mubarak, Abbas discuss action in the coming stage after Mitchell tour

Arab Peace Initiative Follow-up Committee calls proclamation of two states’ borders, U.S. recognition of Palestinian state

Committee links resumption of negotiations to serious U.S. proposal

Mitchell offers fresh proposals for solution, hopes over progress within months

Netanyahu severely criticized in Israel, Livni calls for early election

Egypt's President, Hosni Mubarak, held separate talks in Cairo with Palestinian President, Mahmoud Abbas, and U.S Middle East Envoy, George Mitchell, and discussed the means to resolve the current deadlock in peace talks.

Recently, the United States admitted it had failed in persuading Israel to freeze its settlement activities in the occupied territories.

The Palestinian Authority's stance is that peace talks cannot be resumed while Israel continues its invasions and violations, and while it is ongoing with its settlement construction and expansion in the occupied territories, including in occupied East Jerusalem.

Following his meetings, Mitchell told reporters that extensive efforts are needed to bridge the differences between Israel and the Palestinians, and that the United States is still interested in helping the two parties reach a peace deal on final-status issues.

Mitchell arrived in Cairo on Monday after he held talks with Palestinian and Israeli officials.

He stated that peace is not an easy task, and that Israel and the Palestinian Authority of President Mahmoud Abbas, have asked the United States to continue its mediation efforts.

The main issues that continue to obstruct talks are Israeli settlement activities, borders, security, national resources and the Right of Return of the Palestinian refugees.

The Arab Peace Initiative committee held a meeting that was headed by Qatar Prime Minister, Sheikh Jassem Bin Hamad Al Thani, and expressed support to the Palestinian demands.

Arab League Secretary-General, Amr Moussa, Palestinian President, Mahmoud Abbas, Palestinian Chief Negotiator, Dr. Saeb Erekat, Egyptian Foreign Minister, Ahmed Abul-Gheit, and several other officials attended the meeting.

Foreign minters of Syria, Morocco, Algeria, Lebanon and Jordan did not attend the meeting.

Sheikh Jassem delivered an extended speech in which he called on the Arab countries to resolve the current situation, and stated that peace talks are currently taking a difficult angle that must be dealt with.

He said that peace talks based on a real and comprehensive peace, and the two-state solution, must be resumed.

Sheikh Jassem added that the Palestinian State must be established in all territories occupied by Israel following the 1967 war, and that East Jerusalem must be the capital of this state.

He demanded the United States to resume its role, and to act on lifting the illegal Israeli siege on Gaza, and also called on the Palestinians to achieve reconciliation.

The final statement of the conference supported the Palestinian stance of not holding talks while Israel is conducting its illegal settlement activities.

The statement also supported heading to the Security Council to demand an international recognition of an independent Palestinian state, and to demand the Council to oblige Israel to stop its settlement activities.

Diplomatic Advisor of President Abbas, ambassador Dr. Majdi Al Khalidi, stated that peace talks are facing a real crises due to Israel's illegal measures and policies.

He added that the crisis started after the United States failed in convincing Israel to stop its settlements activities.

Meanwhile, Arab foreign ministers decided not to resume the Palestinian-Israel peace talks without a serious U.S. offer and agreed to bring up the issue to the UN Security Council.

The Arab peace initiative follow up committee issued a statement affirming that negotiations will not be resumed unless Washington makes a serious offer that will ensure an end to the Arab-Israeli conflict in line with the peace process principles.

"The committee also agreed to prepare for taking the issue to the UN Security Council and to activate a decision by the committee on taking the Israeli settlement issue to the Security Council," according to the statement.

"Instructions have been given to Arab ambassadors at the United Nations to ask for a Security Council meeting on Israeli settlement activities," Arab League Secretary General Amr Moussa said in a press conference after an extraordinary meeting of the committee.

The committee convened in the Arab League headquarters Cairo to make a collective decision on the fate of the peace process and to study other options in case of the peace talks failure within the coming period.

The committee has taken a number of steps, including preparations for discussing the Arab-Israeli conflict at the UN Security Council, Moussa said, adding the Israeli position has killed all hopes for reaching a settlement.

The Palestinians want a firmer position from the United States towards Israel, while the U.S. proposal for the Palestinians to resume peace talks with Israel is not encouraging, Palestinian Presidency spokesman Nabil Abu Rhudeinah was quoted by Egypt's official MENA news agency as saying.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas attended the meeting and briefed 14 Arab foreign ministers on the outcome of his talks in Washington and his meeting with U.S. Middle East peace envoy George Mitchell in Ramallah to revive the peace process.

The meeting was held after the United States announced it had failed to persuade Israel to freeze settlement building as a condition to resume the suspended direct peace talks, signaling the end of direct peace negotiations and resuming of indirect talks.

The Palestinians halted the U.S.-sponsored direct talks with Israel in early October, four weeks after it resumed in Washington on September 2, due to the Israeli government's refusal to extend a 10-month moratorium over freezing settlement constructions in the Palestinian territories that ended on Sept. 26.

The previous meeting of the Arab peace initiative committee was held in Libya in October and gave the U.S. a one-month moratorium to convince Israel to halt settlement construction, otherwise, the Palestinians would go to the international community and use other diplomatic options instead.

The Palestinians had threatened that if Israel keeps insisting not to freeze settlement constructions, they would use other diplomatic options, mainly demanding the UN Security Council to recognize an independent Palestinian state. Israel warned the Palestinians not to carry out such actions.

U.S. envoy George Mitchell held separate talks in Cairo earlier on Wednesday with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and Moussa. Mitchell told reporters after the meetings that the U.S. seeks to help the two parties reach an agreement to all final-status issues, and that would pave the way for a final peace treaty.

"That remains our goal," said Mitchell, while stressing that achieving peace between both parties "will not be easy by any means."

Mitchell added that both Palestinians and Israel still requested that the United States continue its efforts as peace mediator towards the realization of a framework agreement on all permanent issues including the fate of Jerusalem, the Palestinian refugees and security arrangements.

Mitchell, after meeting Abbas, said the U.S. will not be deterred by setbacks and will persevere until a Palestinian state is established alongside Israel.

Resuming direct Israeli-Palestinian talks soon seems unlikely because of Washington’s failure to persuade Israel to extend a curb on settlement building. Abbas has said he won’t negotiate face-to-face as long as expanding Israeli settlements deepen control over West Bank lands the Palestinians want for their state.

Instead, the U.S. now plans to discuss the issues, including the borders of a Palestinian state and security arrangements, separately with the two sides.

“As we expected, there had been many difficulties, obstacles and setbacks along the way,” Mitchell said after meeting with Abbas. “We accept it, but we are determined to persevere in our efforts until we reach the successful conclusion that I think all want.”

This, he said, should include a viable, independent Palestinian state and secure, defensible borders for Israel.

The U.N.’s Mideast envoy, Robert Serry, told the U.N. Security Council in New York that 2011 is going to be a critical year to reach an Israeli-Palestinian peace settlement and the international community must help the parties make very difficult decisions.

He said the credibility of the Mideast peace process and its sponsors including the Quartet of Mideast peacemakers — the U.S., the U.N., the European Union and Russia — “will be at stake.”

Quartet envoys met with Mitchell on Friday before he left for the region and Serry said a meeting of Quartet leaders is expected to take place “soon in the new year.”

Serry called Israel’s refusal to agree to a new freeze on settlements “a serious setback” and said the United States now plans to engage the Israelis and Palestinians in indirect talks on all final status issues.

He said the U.S. intends to be “a proactive participant offering ideas and bridging proposals when appropriate.”

At a meeting in Washington in September, the Israeli and Palestinian leaders set a goal of reaching the outline of a final peace settlement by September 2011. That goal was set when Israeli and Palestinian leaders came to Washington in September to resume negotiations — a process that quickly broke down over disagreement on Israeli settlement activity in the West Bank.

Serry said “the goal must be a two state solution based on an end to the 1967 occupation and a resolution of all core issues.” Later, Mitchell toured the West Bank’s largest city, Hebron, meeting with Palestinian business people, visiting a local dairy and inspecting a cargo crossing between the West Bank and Israel.

Mitchell noted that West Bank companies face challenges distributing their goods, an apparent reference to Israeli restrictions on trade and movement in the West Bank, despite a recent easing.

On Monday, Mitchell had a lengthy meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

With the new U.S. emphasis on discussing core issues, Netanyahu is expected to come under growing pressure from Washington to reveal his positions, especially on borders. Until now, the Israeli leader has declined, saying he would only do so in direct talks.

The Palestinians have said they have presented detailed positions in the past. In a document presented to the Americans earlier this year, the Palestinians said they want a state in the West Bank, Gaza and east Jerusalem, territories captured by Israel in the 1967 Mideast War, but that they are willing to swap 1.9 percent of the land to enable Israel to keep some of the settlements.

Netanyahu’s more moderate predecessor made a somewhat similar offer to the Palestinians in late 2008, asking to swap 6.5 percent of West Bank land for Israeli territory, but there was no agreement on it.

Meanwhile, Israeli opposition leader Tzipi Livni said on ABC News that Israel should have instituted a second settlement building freeze in exchange for U.S. guarantees.

"In choosing between building more buildings or making peace, I prefer to make peace," Livni said on ABC's "This Week with Christiane Amanpour" in a joint interview with Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad. "I believe that a peace treaty between Israel and the Palestinians is in Israel's interest. It's not a favor to President Obama. Israel needs to make these kinds of decisions in order to live in peace."

Livni, who heads the left-of-center Kadima Party, met privately with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton over the weekend and attended the Saban Forum in Washington.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu would not extend a 10-month moratorium on building in the settlements despite guarantees from the Obama administration.

The current state of the Middle East peace process was due to the makeup of Netanyahu's right-wing government, said Livni, who indicated that she had offered to form a national unity government with his Likud Party.

Fayyad did not answer directly when asked if the Palestinian leadership would unilaterally declare a Palestinian state.

"What we are committed to is statehood. Not a declaration of statehood, we're looking for a state," he said. "We did make a declaration of statehood [in] 1988. This time we're looking for a real state on the ground."

Fayyad said he was waiting to hear from Netanyahu on what the Israeli leader means when he says he is committed to a Palestinian state.