US special envoy
George Mitchell and EU
foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton are to meet with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu in Caesarea on Friday morning, and will then proceed directly to Ramallah to meet with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, in an attempt to progress the talks.RELATED:
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The meetings come following reports on Thursday that US President Barack Obama had sent Israel a draft letter in which he
security guarantees – including a continued Israeli military presence in
Jordan Valley after the creation of a Palestinian state – if Israel in
reinstituted the moratorium on new settlement construction for 60
A White House and a State Department official denied the existence of such a letter.
The Palestinians have threatened to walk away from the direct
negotiations that began in early September if Israel does not reinstate the
moratorium that expired on Sunday, 10-months after it was imposed by the
As of Thursday night, intense coordinated diplomatic efforts
by the US and Europe had yet to break the impasse between Israel and the
Palestinians over the issue of settlement construction that threatens to put a
halt to the fledgling negotiations between the parties.
US special envoy
George Mitchell, who arrived on Tuesday, planned to hold a second round of
meetings on Friday with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Palestinian
Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in hopes of breaking the deadlock.
foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, who arrived on Thursday for a twoday
visit, directly after meeting with US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in
Washington, also plans to meet with both Netanyahu and Abbas.
League foreign ministers, who were expected to meet in Cairo next Monday to
decide whether Abbas should continue with the negotiations, opted to delay the
meeting for two days to give the US administration a chance to persuade the
Israeli government to extend the settlement freeze.
The State Department
official refused to comment to The Jerusalem Post on the possibility that
security pledges and diplomatic incentives had been extended to Israel in the
course of the negotiations but had not yet been forwarded to Israel in writing,
because no conclusive agreement had been reached on the matter.
Minister’s Office had no comment on the issue of the letter whose contents were
first reported on Thursday by David Makovsky of the Washington Institute for
Near East Policy.
“At its core, the draft letter offers a string of assurances
to Israel in return for a two-month moratorium extension. More specifically, US
officials indicate that the document makes commitments on issues ranging from
current peace and security matters to future weapons deliveries in the event
that peace-related security arrangements are reached,” Makovsky
According to Makovsky, the US would not seek a second extension of
the moratorium past 60 days. It promised that the US would veto any UN Security
Council initiative that related to the peace process during the one-year
timetable for negotiations.
In the letter the US, according to Makovsky,
promised to accept the legitimacy of Israel’s security needs, including a ban on
weapons smuggling and “the infiltration of terrorists” into Israel. It also
discussed the need to “enhance Israel’s defense capabilities” by increasing
Finally, the US, according to Makovsky, promised to
“engage” Israel and Arab states in discussions of a “regional security
architecture” with an eye toward Iran.
Israeli politicians who believe
Netanyahu has rejected Obama’s offer reacted to the report on Thursday
Kadima’s deputy faction chairman, MK Yohanan Plesner, slammed
Netanyahu for apparently turning down the president.
to continue strengthening his government of national paralysis with the extreme
Right than accept unprecedented American commitments at the expense of the
citizens of Israel and their security,” Plesner said.
Kadima MK Yoel
Hasson accused Netanyahu of “acting like a political hack” and not a leader and
of “missing an important opportunity due to his narrow political
But Likud hawk MK Danny Danon praised Netanyahu for standing
up to the president of the United States. He advised Netanyahu to wait for an
American president who would not pressure Israel to take steps that the
overwhelming majority of Israelis oppose.
“We don’t work for President
Obama,” Danon said. “It is clear that all his promises for the finalstatus
agreement are baseless, because by the time there will be a final-status
agreement, Obama will have already been voted out of office.”
The PA on
Thursday renewed its call to extend the moratorium on settlement construction
and expressed hope that the US administration would succeed in putting enough
pressure on Israel in this regard.
On Thursday, Mitchell meet with Abbas
in Ramallah for two hours, in a meeting that chief PA negotiator Saeb Erekat
described as “thorough.”
“The Israeli government holds the keys to the
continuation of the peace talks,” Erekat said. “We have repeatedly asked the
Israeli government to halt settlement construction, including natural growth, so
as to give the peace process the chance it deserves.”
Erekat said the
Palestinians seek peace and appreciate the efforts the US is making in this
“We hope that the US administration and the international
community would succeed in obliging Israel to fulfill its commitments,
especially with regards to stopping construction in the settlements,” he
Mitchell said after the meeting with Abbas that Washington was
determined to pursue its efforts to achieve peace in the region.
continue our efforts to find common ground between the parties to enable the
direct negotiations to continue in a manner that we hope will lead to an
agreement,” he declared.
“President Obama’s vision of comprehensive peace
in the Middle East remains our primary goal in the region. That means Israel and
the Palestinians reaching agreement on the two-state solution with security and
prosperity for both peoples.”
Speaking to the media before his meeting
with Mitchell on Wednesday, Netanyahu said that he intended to pursue a peace
deal with the Palestinians.
“There are many skeptics and many doubts –
there are many obstacles on the road to peace. There is only one way to
prove them right. That is not to try. We are committed and I am committed to
trying to get to a peace agreement that will secure Israel’s security and other
vital national interests. That is my goal and that is our policy.”Jpost.com staff contributed to this report.