Abul Gheit, who was accompanied by Egyptian intelligence chief Omar Suleiman, reiterated Arab support for Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas’s demand that Israeli settlement building be frozen ahead of fresh talks.
“The goal is achieve the Palestinian demand, which has Arab support, for a complete halt to settlements in order to clear the way for a return to negotiations,” Abul Gheit told reporters after meeting with Abbas in Ramallah.
“We are still working with the Americans and the Israelis, but until now there has not been the desired breakthrough,” he said.
Abbas told the same press conference he was still mulling alternative paths to statehood, including an appeal to the United Nations, but said his first choice would be to return to the negotiations launched in September.
“We have discussed our options and we have said that these are consecutive options, but our first option is to return to direct negotiations if Israel halts all settlement activity,” Abbas said.
The two senior Egyptian officials had flown by helicopter from Amman, where they met with Jordan’s King Abdullah II, who also called for a settlement freeze.
After more than a year of US-led shuttle diplomacy, the latest round of direct talks was launched in Washington early last month in the presence of US President Barack Obama, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and King Abdullah.
But the negotiations ground to a halt three weeks later when a 10-month partial moratorium on settlement construction in the West Bank expired.
Arab foreign ministers have given Washington until early November to resolve the impasse before they meet to discuss alternatives to the negotiations, but there has been little sign of progress in recent weeks.
The Palestinians view the presence of 500,000 Israelis in more than 120 settlements scattered across the occupied West Bank, including annexed east Jerusalem, as a major obstacle to the establishment of their promised state.
Israel has so far refused to renew the moratorium and insisted the thorny issue of Jewish settlements be resolved as part of a final peace deal.
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