Dermer in US hints backstage diplomacy on PA track

PM's senior adviser joins Barak on US visit signaling that despite the situation in Egypt, behind the scenes diplomatic maneuvers taking place.

Ehud Barak with Robert Gates 311 AP (photo credit: AP)
Ehud Barak with Robert Gates 311 AP
(photo credit: AP)
Ron Dermer, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s senior adviser, traveled to Washington this week with Defense Minister Ehud Barak, fueling speculation that even as the situation in Egypt is keeping the Israeli- Palestinian track off the front burner, diplomatic maneuvering is taking place behind the scenes to try and renew negotiations.
Along with Netanyahu’s envoy Yitzhak Molcho, Dermer is a central player in the triangular Israel-US-Palestinian dialogue.
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Ever since the Egyptian crisis erupted a little more than two weeks ago, there has been little public contact between US officials and their Israeli or Palestinian counterparts either in the region or in Washington.
Barak, however, met Wednesday in Washington for a 75- minute meeting with US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Defense Secretary Robert Gates and National Security Adviser Tom Donilon.
A statement after the meeting said the discussions focused on the situation in Egypt, Lebanon and Tunisia, and also touched on Turkey and the status of the negotiations with the Palestinians.
Prior to his meeting at the White House, Barak also met with congressional leaders, including House Majority Leader Eric Cantor and US House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, and emphasized the importance of continued congressional support for aid to Israel, amid calls to cut US foreign aid across the board.
Barak is scheduled to return on Friday.
In a related diplomatic development, Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou promised to help Israel repair strained ties with the European Union, as part of a drive to promote investment in the crisis-hit country.
On Thursday, Papandreou’s ministers of foreign affairs, investment, public order, tourism and defense held meetings with a delegation from the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations in what was widely considered an effort to attract investments from the Jewish American leaders.
Papandreou also said Athens could help Israel gain access to European markets. After the meetings in Greece, the Conference of Presidents will be coming to Israel for its annual meeting beginning Sunday.
“We see the [European] market expanding to the Mediterranean and certainly we would like to integrate Israel into this European market,” Papandreou said. “I think this is vital for Israel’s economy but also for its strategic security.”
Israel and Greece have dramatically improved ties over the last year, a move prodded to a great deal by the deterioration in Israeli-Turkish ties.
Papandreou said Greece was seeking cooperation in tourism, agriculture, defense and hi-tech innovation with Israel, and said the two countries would hold a joint cabinet meeting in Israel in April.
Officials in Israel and Greece say also the two countries are holding preliminary talks on potential energy deals involving newly discovered Israeli offshore natural gas deposits.
Papandreou said Greece would use its influence to call on Egypt to continue to observe its peace agreements with Israel. He said Greece would urge the EU to help Egypt build democratic institutions, drawing on its experience in post-communist Eastern Europe.
“Democracy has many building blocks so this will be a process which needs help, care and understanding and perseverance,” Papandreou said. “And here Europe has a huge experience.”

AP contributed to this report.