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Arab League agrees to give U.S. more time to salvage Mideast peace process

The group says it backs a Palestinian threat to quit direct talks unless Israel renews a partial ban on West Bank settlement construction. Israel is still weighing the moratorium proposal.

October 09, 2010|By Edmund Sanders, Los Angeles Times

Reporting from Jerusalem — Arab League members decided Friday to give the Obama administration one more month to get faltering Mideast peace talks back on track, but they also said they support a Palestinian threat to quit direct talks unless Israel reverses itself on resuming West Bank settlement construction.

The Arab League decision, announced at a meeting in Libya, gives U.S. negotiators more time to resolve the current standoff and solicit support for their proposal to renew Israel's partial construction moratorium, which expired Sept. 26.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, who previously said he would make a final decision on whether to quit talks after consulting Arab leaders, has signaled in recent days that he would accept the U.S. proposal to renew the settlement moratorium for two to three months.

But Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has not agreed, seeking clarification of the terms of the compromise. The U.S. plan reportedly includes such incentives as increased military aid for Israel and support for certain Israeli positions on borders and security.

The standoff is starting to take a toll on Netanyahu's political standing at home, where conservatives don't want him to renew the freeze and liberals and moderates warn he should not allow the peace process to collapse.

A poll published Friday in Israel's Yediot Aharonot newspaper found 47% of respondents viewed the prime minister's performance unfavorably, while 40% approved. That's a reversal from June, when 52% approved and 40% disapproved.

In an apparent bid to boost his support among conservatives, Netanyahu is calling for his Cabinet to endorse a new law Sunday that would require non-Jews to pledge their loyalty to Israel as a "Jewish, democratic state" to become citizens. The idea, popular with right-wing parties, is being attacked by some as discriminatory and provocative.

Meanwhile, in the West Bank city of Hebron, Israel's military early Friday killed two Palestinian militants suspected in an August drive-by shooting that killed four Israelis near a Jewish settlement.

The Israeli unit raided a building in Hebron's Jabal Jouhar neighborhood after midnight, ordering residents to evacuate. When the two suspects — members of the Hamas movement's military wing, the Izzidin al-Qassam Brigade — refused to surrender, soldiers opened fire, residents said.

Israeli military officials say their troops came under fire first and responded.

The army later dispatched a bulldozer to knock down sections of the three-story building.

The bodies of Nashat Karmi, 33, and Mamoun Natsheh, 25, were removed from the rubble by neighbors before the army was able to take them away, according to witnesses.

Hamas, which holds power in the Gaza Strip, vowed to avenge the Israeli raid and blamed its rival, the Palestinian Authority, which operates in the West Bank, for cooperating with Israel.

Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad warned Israel against "incitement" of Palestinians at a time when frustration is high over stalled peace talks. "The road to peace does not go through the killing of our people at the hands of the occupation forces," he said in a statement.

Also Friday, a Jewish settler leader in Jerusalem struck two Palestinian youths with his car as he fled rock-throwing demonstrators in the Arab-dominated Silwan neighborhood. One of the youths was hospitalized.

Video of the incident showed the two boys running in the street toward the car of David Beeri, who heads Elad, a group that advocates for Jewish families living in Arab neighborhoods. After striking the youths, Beeri's car stops, then speeds away as other youths pelt the vehicle with rocks. A spokesman for the group told Israeli media that Beeri feared for his life and was trying to escape an ambush.

edmund.sanders@latimes.com

Special correspondents Maher Abukhater in Ramallah, West Bank, and Amro Hassan in Cairo contributed to this report.

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