US Mideast envoy George Mitchell on Tuesday night stressed the US belief in the possibility of the sides reaching an agreement within a year, in a briefing for reporters held before the West Bank attack which left four Israelis dead.
He also began to sketch out the American perspective of how talks would proceed, embracing Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s suggestion that he meet personally with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas every two weeks.
Abbas: Settlers sitting on lands that are not theirs
“We think that’s a sensible approach which we hope is undertaken,” Mitchell said, also pointing to an American desire to see “meetings at other levels on a consistent basis.” He indicated that the US would not be “physically represented in every single meeting” because US officials “recognize the value of direct, bilateral discussion between the parties.”
He also stressed that an agreement must be made by the two sides alone, saying, “We recognize that this is a bilateral negotiation and in the end the parties must make this decision by and for themselves.”
But he also pointed to a robust American involvement on an “intensive basis,” as he noted that “the United States will play an active and sustained role in the process.”
Tuesday was a case in point, as US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had meetings scheduled with Netanyahu and Abbas and her counterparts from Jordan and Egypt.
US officials, however, declined to discuss the moratorium or single out the issue of settlements despite its impending prominence in the future of the talks.
On Wednesday, Netanyahu and Abbas, as well as Jordan’s King Abdullah and Egypt’s President Hosni Mubarak, are set to have bilateral meetings with US President Barack Obama.
Obama plans to make a statement following the meetings, and then each of the leaders will make remarks ahead of an intimate dinner expected to be held in the White House.
The following day, Clinton will hold a three-way meeting with Netanyahu and Abbas that is likely to last several hours. Afterwards, the three are expected to make public addresses formally launching direct talks.
Late Tuesday, Clinton was also scheduled to met with Quartet envoy Tony Blair and former president Jimmy Carter.
Carter, who helped broker the peace accords between Israel and Egypt,
was at the State Department to talk about North Korea following his role
arranging the release of a US citizen being held by the authorities
US officials did, however, acknowledge the important work done in the
many previous iterations of the peace process, which haven’t been as
successful when it comes to the Israelis and Palestinians.
Mitchell said he had studied those previous attempts and the frameworks
they engendered, and that while the Obama administration has tried to
“avoid a slavish adherence to the past,” it has gleaned essential
He pointed to the need for frequent direct contact between the leaders
involved; active and sustained US participation; maintaining broad
international support; and the importance of creating an atmosphere
conducive to success and conveying a “sincerity and seriousness of
purpose” on the part of both sides.