US Mideast envoy George Mitchell arrived in Israel Monday evening for two days of talks with Israel and Palestinian leaders, even as Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas was coming under increased pressure from Palestinians to avoid direct talks with Israel.
Mitchell, whose arrival was not announced until nearly the last minute, is scheduled to meet Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu on Tuesday. He is then expected to meet Abbas afterward, and leave the region on Wednesday.
Both Israeli and US diplomatic officials have been saying for days that Mitchell was delaying his visit until there was something to talk about. His arrival Monday night however was not being interpreted by those same officials as an indication that Abbas has finally decided to agree to the launching of direct talks.
"I don't feel comfortable" saying that his arrival indicates a
breakthrough, one Israeli official said. "It might be possible that they
will get something out of Abbas, but I wouldn't hold your breath."
Abbas has come under a great deal of pressure from the US, as well as
Arab countries such as Egypt, Jordan and now even Saudi Arabia, to
renew direct talks -- but so far has not budged.
Diplomatic sources said that if the circumstances warranted it, Mitchell
could – during his visit here – travel to Egypt and Saudi Arabia to
discuss the matter.
Meanwhile, representatives of dozens of Palestinian factions and
organizations on Monday warned Abbas against succumbing to pressure to
direct talks with Israel unconditionally.
They claimed that Israel was planning to exploit the negotiations "to
cover up for its practices, including the Judaisation of Jerusalem,
continued settlement construction and the completion of the racist
They also warned that entering into direct talks with Israel under the
conditions set by the US Administration would "save Israel from the
international campaign of boycott and condemnation."
In a statement issued in the West Bank, the representatives, who also
included Fatah members, said: "We refuse to enter direct talks without
agreement on the terms of reference, a timetable and a mechanism for
implementing [an agreement]. We also demand an active international role
and US assurances, as well as an Israeli commitment to abide by
international law and United Nations resolutions."
Qais Abdel Karim, a senior official with the Democratic Front for the
Liberation of Palestine, said that entering direct talks without
agreement on the terms of reference and a settlement freeze would be
regarded as surrender to Israeli conditions.
Abbas was quoted on Monday as saying that the Palestinians want to know
the borders of their future state before entering direct talks with
The Palestinians want Israel to recognize the 1967 lines as the borders
of a Palestinian state as a precondition for entering into direct talks.
They are also seeking US assurances that Israel would halt construction
in all settlements, including Jewish neighborhoods in east Jerusalem.
Abbas reiterated his readiness to launch direct negotiations with Israel
once there's agreement on the terms of reference and the basis of the
talks. "We want to know the borders where we're going to build our
state," he said.
Netanyahu, however, has said he would not agree to pre-conditions to
negotiations that would, in effect, determine their outcome even before
they start. He has also ruled out a continuation of the settlement
freeze as a way to lure Abbas back to the table.