livni abbas 298.88 ap.
(photo credit: AP [file])
The US administration is embarking on a push to renew the Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations, citing for the first time the importance of dealing with the conflict in order to secure an international coalition against Iran.
Administration officials have stressed in recent days that the US believes it is essential to show progress on the Palestinian track so as to obtain cooperation from moderate Arab countries and Europeans on the issue of countering Iran's nuclear ambitions.
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The efforts to revive the peace process are to begin this week with meetings between Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas at the UN on Monday, followed by a speech by US President George W. Bush on Tuesday in which he is expected to stress the need for negotiations. Bush will meet with Abbas in New York, though no formal announcement on the meeting has been made.
Livni's meeting with Abbas is the first Israeli-PA meeting at this level since before Cpl. Gilad Shalit was kidnapped in June.
The meeting, scheduled for an hour, will take place at the United Nations, where both Livni and Abbas are attending the General Assembly meeting.
An official in Livni's office said that this meeting represented a "reestablishing of channels of communications" at the highest levels.
The official said this would be the first time "since the crisis broke out that Israel will engage directly with the Palestinians, and hear their positions from the highest level possible, and to share assessments." The meeting is believed to be a precursor to a meeting between Abbas and Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.
Livni has said for the last few weeks that Israel should not place any preconditions on meeting with Abbas, not even the release of Shalit.
At the same time, Israeli sources said that there was no American pressure on Israel to deal with the new Palestinian national unity government before it accepts the three conditions of the Quartet - the US, EU, UN and Russia - recognizing Israel, renouncing terror and accepting previous agreements.
Philip Zelikow, counselor to the State Department and one of Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's close advisers, spelled out the new policy direction of the administration in a speech he gave Friday at a conference organized by the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.
Zelikow stressed that there was a need to form a "coalition of builders" to confront the Iranian threat, a coalition made up of the US, Europe and moderate Arab states. According to the senior official, seeing progress in the Israeli-Palestinian track "is a sine qua non" for the Arabs and Europeans in order to prevent even a symbolic "corrosive effect" on the potential for getting these countries on board.
"It is an essential ingredient for forging the coalition. I would say it is an essential ingredient for Israel," Zelikow said, adding that "it is an essential glue that binds all these things together."
The State Department counselor stressed that when building coalitions there was a need to address concerns of other members, in this case the Europeans and Arabs.
Though Zelikow was the first administration official to clearly state the linkage between the Iranian threat and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, similar ideas have been raised, according to diplomatic and other sources, in several discussions that took place in Washington recently, including those with Livni.
Rice, in a closed meeting with Jewish leaders last week, also emphasized the need for progress on the Israeli-Palestinian track, though she did not specify the method of moving forward.
Livni's meeting with Abbas is seen in Washington as an attempt by Israel to show its interest in promoting talks with the Palestinians. According to US sources, Livni expressed willingness to move forward on the Palestinian track, speaking favorably of the "road map" peace plan. The Quartet is expected to meet Wednesday at the foreign ministers' level to discuss ways of moving the peace process forward.
The US efforts to renew the peace process will culminate this week with a meeting between Bush and Abbas on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in New York. This meeting is intended both to strengthen Abbas's standing and to discuss the new Palestinian national unity government, whose guidelines are still unclear. The US has insisted that in order to renew ties with the PA and the flow of financial assistance, the new government must adhere to the three terms set out by the Quartet.
Livni met on Sunday with the Slovakian president and with UN envoy Terje Roed-Larsen.
On Monday she is scheduled to meet with Rice and Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit, as well as with leaders from Argentina, Mauritania, Finland, Latvia and Korea.
Herb Keinon contributed to this report.