US Secretary of State John Kerry has held talks with Arab League officials as he pursues painstaking efforts aimed at revitalising the Middle East peace process.
“We’re all here to have a very key discussion with respect to the Middle East peace process and other issues in the region,” Kerry said as he welcomed a group of ministers to the talks on Monday.
“I think it’s important that we have an opportunity to be able to talk frankly,” he added.
Qatari Prime Minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim Al Thani, chair of the Arab Peace Initiative follow-up committee, headed the delegation, which also included Palestinian foreign affairs minister Riyad al-Maliki, Egyptian Foreign Minister Mohammed Kamel Amr, Bahrain’s Foreign Minister Sheikh Khaled bin Ahmed al-Khalifa, top Saudi and Lebanese officials, and Arab League chief Nabil al-Arabi.
In line with Kerry’s so-called “quiet strategy,” the talks were held in the privacy of Blair House, often known as the president’s guest house, just a short walk from the White House, and not at the State Department.
Arab peace initiative
Kerry and the Arab states voiced support for a 2002 Arab League peace initiative.
“I underscored the Arab League’s very important role … by reaffirming the Arab Peace Initiative here this afternoon,” Kerry told reporters after the talks. US Vice President Joe Biden attended part of the meeting.
The Arab League proposal offered full Arab recognition of Israel if it gave up land seized in a 1967 war and accepted a “just solution” for Palestinian refugees.
Rejected by Israel when it was originally proposed at a Beirut summit in 2002, the plan has major hurdles to overcome.
Israel objects to key points, including a return to 1967 borders, the inclusion of Arab East Jerusalem in a Palestinian state and the return of Palestinian refugees to what is now Israel.
“The Arab League delegation understands that peace between the Palestinians and the Israelis is … a strategic choice for the Arab states,” Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim al-Thani told reporters.
The core issues that need to be settled in the more than six-decade dispute include borders, the fate of Palestinian refugees, the future of Jewish settlements on the West Bank and the status of Jerusalem.
The talks came after a “series of productive conversations by the secretary to explore how we can best move regional peace efforts forward,” deputy acting State Department spokesman Patrick Ventrell told journalists.
“We welcome the Arab League’s eagerness to play a constructive role in the pursuit of a durable and lasting Middle East peace,” Ventrell added.
But Ventrell again cautioned Kerry was not planning to lay out any proposals to the Arab League nations.
“This is more about hearing from them and their perspective on the path forward and some of their opinions,” he said.