RAMALLAH, West Bank (AP) — The U.S. is seeking to bring Arab countries into efforts to restart Israeli-Palestinian negotiations that broke down more than four years ago, a senior Palestinian official said Monday.
Also Monday, the Israeli government said it would resume regular transfers of millions of dollars in tax revenues it collects on behalf of the Palestinian Authority, a step bound to ease the self-rule government's protracted cash crisis.
The decision came just days after President Barack Obama met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas during a visit to the region. Obama has said stabilizing the Palestinian Authority, which has buckled under mounting debt, is key to U.S. peace efforts.
However, there are wide gaps on the terms of renewing talks. The Palestinians say Israel must freeze settlement building on lands it captured in 1967 before any negotiations can resume. Israel says the issue of settlements can be addressed during negotiations.
Obama has sided with the Israeli view, and it is not clear how the U.S. can bring the Palestinians back to the table without a settlement freeze.
Arab countries are now being asked to help, said Yasser Abed-Rabbo, a top official in the Palestine Liberation Organization.
"U.S. efforts will increase in coming weeks and will include other Arab parties, such as Jordan and Egypt," Abed-Rabbo told Voice of Palestine radio, adding that an Arab League delegation is to visit Washington as part of these efforts.
However, he said there would be no flexibility on Palestinian demands for a settlement freeze.
"For us, the important thing is the substance, such as the full settlement freeze and the recognition of the 1967 borders," he said.
The Palestinians want a state in the West Bank, Gaza and east Jerusalem — territories Israel captured in 1967 — but are ready to negotiate border changes, provided the 1967 frontier is the baseline.
Palestinian officials say they cannot return to talks without such a clear framework, arguing that open-ended negotiations will simply provide diplomatic cover to Israel to keep expanding settlements.
"We fear they (the Israelis) would waste time by getting us into a bargaining process over details and steps here and there, and in this way would waste two to three years and then get us to wait for a new U.S. administration," Abed-Rabbo said.
Netanyahu has said he is willing to resume talks immediately. However, he has said he will not relinquish control over east Jerusalem and has refused to recognize the 1967 lines as a starting point for talks.
For 10 months during his previous term, Netanyahu curbed settlement building as part of a U.S. push to bring the Palestinians back to the table, but negotiations never got off the ground.
Successive Israeli governments have built dozens of settlements in the West Bank and east Jerusalem, now home to more than half a million Israelis. Israel withdrew from Gaza in 2005, dismantling almost two dozen settlements there, but sharply restricts access to the territory.
Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said Sunday that the Palestinians would wait two to three months to see if a new U.S. push to restart talks will yield results.
Meanwhile, Netanyahu said he has instructed Finance Minister Yair Lapid to resume the monthly transfer of taxes and customs duties Israel collects on behalf of the Palestinian Authority.
The decision was announced on the eve of the Jewish holiday of Passover, and Israeli officials were not available to further comment.
Israel froze the transfers of about $100 million a month after a successful Palestinian bid in November to win U.N. recognition of a state of Palestine in the lands Israel captured in 1967. Israel has released some money since then, but not on schedule.
The office of Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad said it expects Israel will now transfer the money regularly.
The transfers are a key component of the Palestinian Authority's budget. In recent months, the self-rule government, which administers about 38 percent of the West Bank, has struggled to pay salaries of tens of thousands of civil servants, the backbone of the local economy, and repay its debt to the private sector.