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Israel, PA lobbying US before Obama's visit
By KHALED ABU TOAMEH AND HERB KEINON
02/17/2013
Palestinian negotiators head to Washington to brief US Administration on its stance regarding peace talks with Israel.
 
The Palestinian Authority on Sunday dispatched two senior officials to Washington to brief the US administration on its stance regarding the resumption of peace talks with Israel.

The decision to send the two officials to Washington comes on the eve of US President Barack Obama’s planned visit to the region next month. It also comes after Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu dispatched his envoy on the Palestinian issue, Yitzhak Molcho, to Washington last week to discuss the issue. Netanyahu’s national security adviser, Ya’akov Amidror, is scheduled to go there this week as well.

US Secretary of State John Kerry is also expected to make his first visit here in his new position at the end of February to discuss the diplomatic process and plan for the Obama visit. Israeli officials said Kerry was instrumental in convincing Obama to make the trip to the region now.

Molcho, according to Israeli officials, came back from Washington with the message that while it did not seem at this point that Obama was going to bring any concrete plan for the diplomatic process, he did want to see progress in moving the process forward.

Speaking at Sunday’s cabinet meeting, Amidror – who is coordinating the Obama visit – said that the visit will go a long way toward setting the “foundations” for Israeli-US relations for the next four years.

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, during a meeting with Likud ministers on Sunday, cited the upcoming Obama visit and diplomatic process that will be discussed as one reason why he wanted as broad a coalition as possible.

He said in the context of the diplomatic process that only a broad government would give Israel the ability to show flexibility in talks with the Palestinians, but not be pushed by one party or the other inside the government to make “unreasonable concessions.”

The two Palestinian officials going to Washington, Saeb Erekat and Muhammad Shtayyeh, are expected to reiterate the PA’s demand for a full freeze of settlement construction and the release of Palestinian prisoners from Israeli jails as a prerequisite for resuming the peace talks, a PA official in Ramallah told a German news agency.

According to the official, Erekat and Shtayyeh will also demand that the negotiations with Israel be based on clear terms of reference, including previous UN resolutions pertaining to the Israeli-Arab conflict.

The PA officials will also demand that future negotiations with Israel be resumed from the point where they were halted during the term of former prime minister Ehud Olmert.

Nimer Hammad, political advisor to PA President Mahmoud Abbas, said Sunday he was unaware of new Israeli gestures aimed at encouraging the Palestinians to return to the negotiating table.

Hammad was referring to reports in some Israeli media outlets to the effect that Israel may release Palestinian prisoners as a goodwill sign to the PA leadership ahead of Obama’s visit next month.

Abbas, who is currently visiting Pakistan, was quoted Sunday as saying that the Israeli government must choose between “continuing to build illegal settlements and achieving a just and comprehensive peace.”

Abbas said that “despite the injustices, our hands are still stretched out to peace and we remain committed to working hard toward achieving the two-state solution.”
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