Mitchell smiles 248.88.
(photo credit: AP [file])
Israel and the United States "can and need" to "coordinate and reach understandings" on all the issues on the regional agenda, Defense Minister Ehud Barak told US Middle East Envoy George Mitchell Wednesday night, shortly after his arrival.
Mitchell, on his third visit to the region as US envoy, but who will be meeting with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu for the first time since he set up the new government, arrived from North Africa, where he said in Morocco that "In the case of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, we believe that the two-state solution, two states living side by side in peace, is the best and the only way to resolve this conflict."
Netanyahu has refrained from using the term "two-state solution," but said in his inaugural speech to the Knesset that "In the final status arrangement, the Palestinians will have all the authority needed to govern themselves, except those which threaten the existence and security of the State of Israel."
What this means, sources close to Netanyahu have said, is that Netanyahu is ultimately willing to give the Palestinians, excepting those that endanger Israel, the powers of a state, such as the right to have an army, enter into treaties with countries such as Iran, and complete control over its airspace, water resources and electromagnetic spectrum.
Government sources said that Netanyahu, who is scheduled to meet Mitchell on Thursday, was keen on working together with the US envoy, and that this trip was an opportunity to "touch base with one another and find the common ground to move forward."
Both Israeli and US officials have said there was wide understanding in Washington that the Netanyahu government was still in its "policy review" stage, and that at this point what Mitchell would hear in Jerusalem was mostly broad outlines, but few details.
In addition to meeting Netanyahu, Mitchell is also scheduled to meet Thursday with Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, Chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi, and Opposition head Tzipi Livni. He is also scheduled to hold another meeting with Barak.
On Friday, he will hold meetings with the Palestinian Authority leadership in Ramallah, before continuing on to Egypt and the Gulf States.
Mitchell, who is projected to set up an office here by July, is expected to visit the region about every three weeks.
It is anticipated that Netanyahu will complete his "policy review" by the end of May, at which point he is expected to travel to Washington and meet with US President Barack Obama. Government officials said that the new US administration, which is still undergoing its own policy review, understands that this is a comprehensive process that will not be completed overnight.
Nevertheless, the Netanyahu government will begin in earnest Thursday explaining its world view, as a number of key statesmen are currently in the country, including Alexander Saltanov, the Russian deputy foreign minister and Mideast envoy; US Congresswoman Nita Lowey, chairwoman of the House Foreign Operations Appropriations Subcommittee and Spanish Foreign Minister Miguel Moratinos.
Netanyahu is scheduled to meet with Mitchell and Moratinos on Thursday, and Lieberman is scheduled to meet with Mitchell, Moratinos and Saltanov. Saltanov is also scheduled to meet with new National Security Council head Uzi Arad.
Saltanov, according to diplomatic officials, is here in part to discuss the possibility of a Moscow peace conference, something that has been talked about on-and-off for almost two years.
One Russian official said that Moscow was interested in a "continuity of the peace process," with one important option for Russia being the Moscow conference. The official said Russia was waiting for the Israeli government to complete its reassessment process, and in the meantime was interested in "staying in touch" and trying to discern what would be a "suitable and comfortable" conference framework for the Israelis and the Palestinians. He stressed that Moscow would not do anything that would not be coordinated with Israel.
Saltanov is also expected to meet both with Mitchell and Moratinos while he is here. He will also be traveling to Ramallah for meetings with the Palestinian Authority.
Moratinos will be the first EU foreign minister to meet with Lieberman, whose appointment - and speech in the Foreign Ministry in which he said that Israel was not obligated by the Annapolis conference - raised eyebrows in some European capitals, and led to remarks by some European leaders that if Israel did not remain committed to a two-state process, they would need to reassess their ties with Israel.
While Lieberman did say that Israel was not obligated to Annapolis, he also did reaffirm the country's commitment to the road map, which is a plan that - if followed through - would lead to two states.
One EU official said that EU foreign policy Chief Javier Solana would probably not visit until Israel finished its comprehensive policy review.
Diplomatic officials said Lowey's visit was a "regular" visit, one of a number of congressional visits during Washington's Easter recess, and should not be interpreted as a sign that the US was reconsidering its appropriations to Israel because of the current financial crisis. The officials said that Obama administration officials have reaffirmed their commitment on a number of occasions to the $30 billion dollar decade-long military package hammered out under the Bush administration.
AP contributed to this report