(photo credit: AP)
US Middle East envoy George Mitchell arrived on Monday evening for two days of
talks with Israeli and Palestinian leaders, even as Palestinian Authority
President Mahmoud Abbas was coming under increased pressure from Palestinians to
refuse to enter direct talks with Israel.
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Mitchell, whose arrival was not
announced until nearly the last minute, was scheduled to meet with Prime
Minister Binyamin Netanyahu on Tuesday. He is then expected to meet with Abbas
afterward, and to leave the region on Wednesday.
Both Israeli and US
diplomatic officials have been saying for days that Mitchell was delaying his
visit until there was something to talk about.
His arrival on Monday,
however, was not being interpreted by those same officials as an indication that
Abbas had finally decided to agree to the launching of direct talks.
don’t feel comfortable” saying that his arrival indicates a breakthrough, one
Israeli official said. “It might be possible that they will get something out of
Abbas, but I wouldn’t hold your breath.”
Abbas has come under a great
deal of pressure from the US, as well as from Arab countries such as Egypt,
Jordan and now even Saudi Arabia, to renew direct talks – but so far, he has not
Diplomatic sources said that if the circumstances warranted it,
Mitchell could, during his current visit to the region, travel to Egypt and
Saudi Arabia to discuss the matter.
Meanwhile, representatives of dozens
of Palestinian factions and organizations on Monday warned Abbas against
succumbing to pressure to open direct talks unconditionally.
that Israel was planning to exploit the negotiations “to cover up for its
practices, including the Judaization of Jerusalem, continued settlement
construction and the completion of the racist separation fence.”
also warned that entering direct talks under the conditions set by the US
administration would “save Israel from the international campaign of boycott and
condemnation.”'No direct talks without agreement on the terms of reference'
In a statement issued in the West Bank, the
representatives, who included Fatah members, said, “We refuse to enter direct
talks without agreement on the terms of reference, a timetable and a mechanism
for implementing [an agreement]. We also demand an active international role and
US assurances, as well as an Israeli commitment to abide by international law
and United Nations resolutions.”
Qais Abdel Karim, a senior official with
the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine, said that beginning direct
talks before agreement on the terms of reference and a settlement freeze would
be regarded as surrender to Israeli conditions.
Abbas was quoted on
Monday as saying that the Palestinians wanted to know the borders of their
future state before entering direct talks.
The Palestinians want Israel
to recognize the June 4, 1967, lines as the borders of a Palestinian state as a
condition for entering direct talks.
They are also seeking US assurances
that Israel would halt construction in all settlements, as well as in Jewish
neighborhoods in east Jerusalem.
Abbas reiterated his readiness to launch
direct negotiations with Israel once there was agreement on the terms of
reference and the basis of the talks.
“We want to know the borders where
we’re going to build our state,” he said.
Netanyahu, however, has said he
would not agree to preconditions to negotiations that would, in effect,
determine their outcome before they started. He has also ruled out a
continuation of the settlement freeze as a way to lure Abbas back to the table.