Molcho, Erekat in DC for separate talks with US

PM's envoy to US, Palestinian negotiator hold secret talks in Washington in what may be last-ditch effort to renew the peace process.

By HILARY LEILA KRIEGER
June 6, 2011 22:26
4 minute read.
US President Obama and Hillary Clinton

US President Obama and Hillary Clinton 311 (R). (photo credit: Reuters/Jeff Haynes)

 
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Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu's special envoy Yitzchak Molcho held secret talks in Washington over the last couple of days, government sources signaled on Monday night.

His visit comes at the same time Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat consulted separately in Washington Monday with David Hale, acting US Middle East envoy.

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US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton dropped by the Hale- Erekat meeting in an unscheduled visit that has been seen by some as a means of gauging whether the Palestinian and Israeli positions allow any possibility for restarting negotiations.

“The point of the meeting was to work on getting both sides back to the table,” one State Department official said.

The contacts comes as the US seeks to jump-start a diplomatic process to prevent the Europeans from supporting recognition of a Palestinian state at the UN in September, and to pressure Netanyahu into accepting President Barack Obama's position that the 1967 lines, with mutually agreed land swaps, should be the baseline for negotiations.

Government sources said the prime minister indicated publicly on Sunday that talks were being held with the US on how to move the diplomatic process forward.



Netanyahu, before Sunday's cabinet meeting, said that he listened to a proposal brought from French Foreign Minister Alain Juppé to convene an international peace conference in Paris by the end of July, and that Israel would “study this proposal and discuss it with our friends in the US. The Americans also want to promote initiatives, and we also have ideas of our own.”

Clinton on Monday poured cold water on the French proposal, saying there was no sign either side was ready to talk.

“Right now we are still in a wait-and-see attitude, because we don’t yet have any assurance from either party that they would return to negotiations,” Clinton told reporters after a meeting with the visiting Juppé, saying it would not be “productive” to have a meeting now.

Juppé, however, argued that a conference could be helpful in getting the sides to start talking and that a negotiating process was key to forestalling action at the UN.

“There is also perfect agreement between Madame Secretary and myself that we have to convince the parties [that] it's not a good idea to go to the UN,” he said. “Our main concern is what we are heading [towards] next September...and the only way to avoid such a situation is to boost our to encourage a resumption of the negotiations. This situation will be difficult for everybody and the only way to avoid it is to boost the re-launch of the negotiations."

The French proposal for an international conference, using the 1967 lines with mutual agreed swaps as the baseline for talks, came amid some speculation in Jerusalem that the US and the French had coordinated their positions in advance.

Netanyahu has rejected using the 1967 lines as the starting point for talks, saying they were indefensible. His position was endorsed by the leadership of the House and Senate during his recent visit to the US.

In a related development, Netanyahu – who meets regularly with visiting congressman – did not meet on Thursday with a five-member congressional delegation brought over by J Street.

A spokesman for Netanyahu, who said he was not aware of any policy in the Prime Minister's Office of boycotting J Street, said the “prime minister makes an effort to meet all US lawmakers. He understands the importance of Congress, but it is not always possible. Unfortunately it was not possible this time.”

The spokesman gave no specific reason why it was not possible for Netanyahu to meet this group, which consisted of Reps. Steve Cohen (D-Tennessee), Sam Farr (D-California), Betty McCollum (D-Minnesota), Lynn Woolsey (C-California) and John Yarmuth (D-Kentucky).

J Street spokeswoman Jessica Rosenblum said in response that “with Israel facing the specter of increasing international isolation, it’s difficult to fathom why the prime minister would refuse to welcome members of Congress, who have voted year after year in support of military and other assistance to Israel, and who are being greeted at the highest levels of government across the region. It’s just hard to comprehend the thinking behind this short-sighted decision.”

She said, however, that the group was honored on the Knesset floor Monday by Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin, and met with opposition head Tzipi Livni, as well as with Eran Lehrman from the National Security Council.

The NSC is a part of the Prime Minister’s Office.

The group arrived from high level talks in Egypt, and on Tuesday are scheduled to meet the Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad and Foreign Minister Riyad al- Maliki.

Reuters contributed to this report.

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