Amid expectations that US-mediated “proximity talks” between Israel and the Palestinian Authority will begin within a few weeks, Jerusalem is hosting a parade of top aides to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton who are holding meetings far from the public eye.
One of the aides was Air Force Gen. Paul Selva, assistant to the chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, who left Israel on Monday following a number of high-level but low profile meetings.
Selva, who works closely with Clinton, has been charged by the administration with gauging how both parties are progressing on their obligations under the road map peace plan.
Diplomatic officials said Selva was also in the region looking at how various economic projects being initiated by Quartet envoy Tony Blair were progressing, as well as how US Lt.-Gen. Keith Dayton’s project to develop the PA security forces was developing.Column: Perhaps a step backward will move the peace process forward
Selva was hosted in Israel by Maj.-Gen. (res.) Amos Gilad, head of the Political-Security Bureau in the Defense Ministry, and spent time in the West Bank, meeting with OC Central Command Maj.-Gen. Avi Mizrachi and Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories Maj.-Gen. Eitan Dangot.
Two of Clinton’s closest aides, James Steinberg and Jacob Lew, are expected in the country in the coming days for talks expected to deal with both regional and bilateral issues.
Steinberg is the No. 2 official at the State Department, responsible for policy, while Lew is the Deputy Secretary of State for Management and Resources.
Defense officials said that the talks with the Americans came at a crucial time as Israel and the Palestinians were preparing for a renewal of negotiations, in what are being described as proximity talks that will be mediated by the United States. Selva, the officials said, came to Israel to assess the situation in the West Bank and was expected to report directly back to Clinton.
During his talks with the IDF, Selva was presented with a list of goodwill gestures Israel has made to the PA in recent years, including the removal of close to two dozen checkpoints and 200 dirt roadblocks as part of an effort to ease restrictions on Palestinian movement.
The officials said that Selva also discussed Dayton’s project of
training PA security forces in Jordan and their deployment in the West
Bank. In December, a fifth battalion of Palestinian security personnel
trained in Jordan returned to the West Bank. Another battalion then
left for training.
IDF sources said that the Palestinian forces were doing a good job
cracking down on Hamas infrastructure and restoring law and order in
the West Bank, and that they have been discussing the possibility of
allowing the battalions to deploy in additional cities in the West
Bank. PA forces are currently deployed in Hebron, Bethlehem, Jericho,
Jenin, Kalkilya and Nablus.