Mitchell, Netanyahu meet on proximity talks


U.S. Mideast envoy George Mitchell met in Jerusalem with Benjamin Netanyahu to discuss the start of proximity talks.

Mitchell and the Israeli prime minister met for three hours on Wednesday afternoon. Netanyahu had said he was ready to launch the talks at the meeting.The two men are scheduled to meet again on Thursday.

Mitchell is scheduled to meet Friday with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, but talks are not likely to start before at least Saturday, when the Palestine Liberation Organization Executive Committee is set to meet to approve the talks. Abbas was meeting Wednesday in Cairo with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. Netanyahu met with Mubarak on Monday, when he reportedly updated the president on the status of the peace process.

Israel’s deputy prime minister, Dan Meridor, told the Jerusalem Post in an article published Wednesday that indirect talks will fail.

“Everyone will want to pull America to their own side, and they won’t get closer, they will get further apart,” Meridor, also the minister of intelligence, told the newspaper. “I think we need to go quickly to direct talks.”

Abbas put the start of the indirect peace negotiations in doubt on Tuesday after a West Bank mosque was burned down in a fire that Palestinian officials blamed on residents of neighboring Jewish settlements. Israeli police said the fire was caused by an electrical short.

“This criminal attack threatens efforts to revive the peace process,” Abbas said.

Mitchell heading for Israel


U.S. Middle East peace envoy George Mitchell will meet with Israeli and Palestinian officials this week.

Mitchell was set to arrive Thursday in Israel in a visit scheduled at the last minute following a meeting Wednesday between Israeli and U.S. diplomatic officials, Palestinian officials told Reuters.

It is Mitchell’s first visit to the region since Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Obama met in Washington a month ago in a meeting that appeared to publicly illustrate the deep differences between the two leaders and countries.

Mitchell will meet Friday with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah, according to reports citing Palestinian officials.

The Wall Street Journal reported Thursday that Netanyahu has rejected an Obama administration call for a total construction freeze in eastern Jerusalem, but has agreed to implement other confidence-building measures toward the Palestinians, including transferring more West Bank territory to PA security control and discussing final-status issues during indirect negotiations.

Mitchell arrives in Israel


U.S. Middle East peace envoy George Mitchell arrived in Israel for meetings with Israeli officials and later in Ramallah with Palestinian officials.

Mitchell arrived Thursday for a visit scheduled at the last minute following a meeting the day before between Israeli and U.S. diplomatic officials, Palestinian officials told Reuters.

It is Mitchell’s first visit to the region since Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Obama met in Washington a month ago in a meeting that appeared to publicly illustrate the deep differences between the two leaders and countries.

Mitchell will meet Friday with Netanyahu, as well as Defense Minister Ehud Barak and President Shimon Peres. He is set to meet Saturday with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, Ynet reported.

The Wall Street Journal reported Thursday that Netanyahu has rejected an Obama administration call for a total construction freeze in eastern Jerusalem, but has agreed to implement other confidence-building measures toward the Palestinians, including transferring more West Bank territory to PA security control and discussing final-status issues during indirect negotiations.

Mitchell postpones visit to Israel


U.S. Middle East envoy George Mitchell has put a planned trip to Israel on hold.

Mitchell was scheduled to arrive Tuesday in Israel, but reportedly delayed his trip until Israel meets the conditions set down by the United States in the wake of the crisis fomented by Israel’s announcement last week of a preliminary approval to build 1,600 apartments in a ultra-Orthodox eastern Jerusalem neighborhood.

“We want to make sure that we have the commitment from both sides that when he travels, we can make progress,” State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said, according to the Washington Post.

The demands include reversing the approval of the construction plan for the Ramat Shlomo neighborhood, a “substantial” good-will gesture toward the Palestinians such as releasing Palestinian prisoners, and agreeing publicly to discuss all core issues, including the status of Jerusalem, in upcoming peace talks. One demand, that Israel apologize for embarrassing Vice President Joe Biden in last week’s incident, has been met.

Israel is expected to give a formal answer to U.S. demands on Tuesday, according to the Washington Post.

Mitchell is due Friday in Moscow for a meeting of the Quartet on the Middle East.

Biden and Clinton are scheduled to meet Tuesday to discuss the current crisis between the United States and Israel, The New York Times reported.

Meanwhile, the Jerusalem Post reported Tuesday that sources in the U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv said that Mitchell’s trip was postponed for “logistical reasons,” including consultations in Washington on Tuesday, and that he will come to Israel sometime after the Quartet’s meeting.

+