The Arab League decided Friday to give the United States an ultimatum: If U.S. leaders do not pressure Israel into accepting Arab demands within a month, the Palestinian Authority will give up on the next round of negotiations. The PA is demanding that Israel forbid Jews to build in Judea and Samaria, an area that is home to an estimated 350,000 Israelis.
"We are giving the United States an opportunity to convince Israel to stop settlements. We are giving them a month which will be a period of political interaction between the United States and Israel," a PA spokesman told reporters.
Currently, Jews living in Judea and Samaria are only allowed to build within the city limits of existing Israeli communities, and only on state land. However, Abbas has categorically rejected the possibility of any Jewish presence in a future PA state, and says that any construction for Jews is an obstacle to peace - even when no undeveloped land is used.
Before last year, PA leaders, including Abbas, and the Arab League had given the go-ahead to direct talks with Israel even while Jewish construction in Judea and Samaria was ongoing. Abbas' about-face on the issue has led some to argue that the PA chairman is deliberately undermining talks in order to demand the unilateral establishment of a PA Arab state.
In fact, Abbas told the Arab League that he is considering the unilateral creation of a PA state in Judea, Samaria, and Jerusalem, on all land outside of the 1949 armistice line. Abbas said he would seek U.S. approval for the move if negotiations with Israel come to a halt.
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu initiated a 10-month Judea and Samaria construction freeze - the first of its kind - in an attempt to bring the PA to the negotiating table. The freeze ended in September.
Netanyahu has refused to extend the freeze, saying that while Israel will not build in full force, "we will not freeze the lives of the residents of Judea and Samaria." He argued that the PA focus on Judea and Samaria building was premature, saying, "It is impossible to take the issue of settlements in the West Bank, which is an issue for the permanent agreement, and deal with it separately at the beginning of the direct talks."
Israel-PA talks have faced other obstacles as well, such as the PA's refusal to accept Israel as a Jewish state, and the fact that Abbas has no control over Gaza, which fell to Hamas in 2007. A recent poll indicated an additional cause for concern: only 30 percent of PA Arabs said they support talks with Israel, while 51 percent supported the recent murder of four Israeli civilians.