PA leaders Fayyad and Abbas (L-R)
PA leaders Fayyad and Abbas (L-R)Israel news photo: Flash 90

The Palestinian Authority may be backing out of the indirect, U.S.-brokered “proximity talks” to which it had tentatively agreed (in place of the resumption of direct negotiations mandated by the U.S. Roadmap plan). The proximity talks were suggested by the U.S. due to the ongoing refusal of the PA to resume final status negotiations after Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu took office.

Arab League Secretary-General Amr Moussa told reporters late Wednesday following an “emergency” meeting in Cairo that PA Chairman and Fatah leader Mahmoud Abbas has “decided he will not enter into those negotiations now... The Palestinian side is not ready to negotiate under the present circumstances.”

Israel: Talks are Still On

However, the PA itself has not issued any direct statement, according to the Prime Minister's Office. Mark Regev, spokesman for Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, told Israel National News that as far as the State of Israel is concerned, the talks are still on. He said there has been no official announcement that the PA has canceled its participation in the talks.

“The Americans, through Middle East envoy George Mitchell, informed the prime minister earlier this week there was a green light for the talks,” Regev told INN on Thursday morning. “We are ready and we say 'Let's start right now,'" Regev said, adding that there had been no further updates since then.

The Arab League meeting was prompted by Tuesday's announcement of Interior Ministry approval of a project to build 1,600 apartments for the burgeoning hareidi-religious population in Ramat Shlomo. The neighborhood, located in the north-eastern section of the capital, would be expanded by more than 500 dunams. The project, on the table for some three years, still faces a 60-day public review period and another committee review.

Prior to the announcement, the Arab League had been supporting the proximity talks, announcing its backing for the plan on March 3.

U.S. Vice President Joe Biden, who is visiting in the region, harshly condemned the housing plans late Tuesday evening, saying it “undermines trust” between Israel and the PA.

Prime Minister Netanyahu also had a harsh conversation with Interior Minister Yishai over the issue. Cabinet Secretary Tzvi Hauser said Netanyahu told Yishai it was not necessary to carry out the public processing for the plan during the week of Biden's visit to Israel.