Diplomatic process returns to international agenda

After holiday lull, Netanyahu and Tony Blair meet in J'lem; Catherine Ashton expected to hold meetings with Israeli, Palestinian leaders; Netanyahu set to meet with Hosni Mubarak in Sharm e-Sheikh.

blair netanyahu 311 (photo credit: Moshe Milner, GPO)
blair netanyahu 311
(photo credit: Moshe Milner, GPO)
Following a more than week-long hiatus in international involvement in the diplomatic process because of the Christmas and New Year holiday, diplomatic activity began anew on Tuesday with a meeting in Jerusalem between Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Quartet envoy Tony Blair.
The EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, meanwhile, is expected to arrive on Wednesday for meetings in Jerusalem with Israeli leaders, followed by meetings in Ramallah on Thursday with the Palestinian Authority leadership.
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Also on Thursday, Netanyahu is scheduled to travel to Sharm e-Sheikh for a meeting with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak dealing with ways to break the current diplomatic stalemate.  Netanyahu will be accompanied on that visit by Industry, Trade and Labor Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer, who is considered to have good relations with the Egyptians. Ben-Eliezer, a Labor party minister, threatened earlier this week that his party would quit the government in two months in the absence of any meaningful diplomatic process.
White House senior advisor Dennis Ross is expected to arrive for further talks in the coming days. Ross was last here some two weeks ago.
Blair, meanwhile, told CNN Tuesday that it was imperative for substantial Israeli-Palestinian talks to begin soon, and that there was a "huge amount of work" taking place behind the scenes to jump-start the negotiations.
"We are talking about weeks, rather than months, for this process now to be rehabilitated and put back on track," the former British Prime Minister said. "If we don't go back and give credibility to this process in a meaningful way... we are going to be in genuine and profound trouble."
Regarding the PA's efforts to get international recognition of a state in the 1967 lines, and push for a UN Security Council resolution condemning the settlements, Blair said while this would place pressure on Israel,  "the trouble with unilateral moves is that they are never as effective as agreed moves."
The Obama administration is "calibrating quite deliberately... the pressure they want to exert on both parties to get this to succeed with also finding a way forward that meets the political reality of the situation," he said.
Netanyahu held a rare conversation with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas on Tuesday, calling him to convey condolences over the death of his brother and expressing his hope that they could move the diplomatic process forward.
According to a statement put out by Netanyahu's office, the Prime Minister said "we are neighbors, and I believe with all my heart that with joint effort and will we can move forward true peace between our peoples."