US envoy George Mitchell left Israel on Thursday afternoon, ending the second round of proximity talks, with each side claiming their contacts with the American mediator focused on something completely different.
Following a three-hour meeting with Mitchell, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu issued a statement saying the second part of their meeting focused on water issues, while the first part of the talks dealt with a number of issues, including gestures Israel might make to the Palestinians.
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A day earlier, following Mitchell’s talks with PA President Mahmoud Abbas, PA negotiator Saeb Erekat, true to what the Palestinians want the discussions to focus on, said the discussions centered on final-status issues such as borders and refugees.
Mitchell’s team released no information on the content of the talks, leading to the conclusion that either each side was simply telling the press what they wanted the talks to focus on, or that Mitchell was now talking about different issues with each side, and would only later get the two parties to focus on the same issues.
The agenda of the talks has been an issue in hot dispute for months.
Mitchell, who was in the region for just three days, is expected to return within two weeks to resume the negotiations. In the meantime his adviser, David Hale, will remain here and continue contacts with both sides.
According to the statement put out by the Prime Minister’s Office, the first half of the meeting, which on the Israeli side was attended only by Netanyahu and his envoy Yitzhak Molcho, dealt with the possibility that Israel would make gestures toward the Palestinians during the four months of indirect talks.
Among the gestures apparently being weighed is paving an access road to the new Palestinian city of Rawabi, being built north of Ramallah, on land slated for nearby settlements.
The statement also said Israel expected the Palestinian leadership to help create a positive atmosphere for the talks, and not to launch international diplomatic campaigns against Israel such as its unsuccessful efforts to bar Israel’s entrance into the OECD, which took place on May 10.
Even as Netanyahu was talking with Mitchell about building a positive
environment, Fatah Central Committee member Nabil Shaath unveiled a plan
to “completely isolate Israel and punish it” by preventing its upgrade
with the EU and even working to expel it from the UN.
Israeli officials reacted with astonishment to this campaign, saying it
would be brought up in talks with Mitchell and that it demonstrated that
“parts of the Palestinian leadership are stuck in a conflict mindset
and are incapable of moving toward peace and reconciliation.”
Regarding the water issue, the Prime Minister’s Office said Israel
believed it would be possible to get regional cooperation from
neighboring states on this issue and to attract investments “for the
benefit of both Israel and the Palestinians.”