Mitchell arrives to push direct talks

Jerusalem confident US supports moving forward with discussions.

Mitchell waves 311 (photo credit: Associated Press)
Mitchell waves 311
(photo credit: Associated Press)
US special envoy George Mitchell was scheduled to arrive on Thursday to push for direct Israeli-Palestinian talks, amid Israeli optimism that these talks will begin well before the 10-month settlement moratorium ends on September 26.
On the eve of Mitchell’s visit, one senior government official said the talks would begin “soon,” though probably not in the “next few days.”
RELATED:Abbas to Mitchell: Progress on borders, security must come firstMitchell demands Schalit’s releaseOpinion: Change in Obama's Israel policy?The Palestinians have publicly continued to maintain that they would go into direct talks only after Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu declared a complete freeze in the settlements and east Jerusalem, and agreed to pick up negotiations from the point where they broke off in 2008 between then-prime minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.
However, in recent days PA officials have sent out various signals that – because of US pressure – they would be willing to restart the negotiations before all their conditions were met.
Netanyahu made clear during his trip to Washington last week that the question of extending the 10-month housing start moratorium past the late September deadline was an issue the Palestinians could raise in direct talks, since settlements and borders were a final-status issue to be dealt with in those talks.
The sense in Jerusalem is that the US agrees with Israel on the demand that it is time to move past the proximity talks and into direct negotiations.
Mitchell is expected to discuss with his Israeli interlocutors steps Jerusalem could take to facilitate moving to direct talks, with one of the ideas frequently bandied about being that Israel would give the PA security apparatus more control in the West Bank.
Mitchell is also expected to hear from Israel about certain steps it expects from the Palestinians, such as curbing its delegitimization campaign of Israel abroad, and ending incitement domestically.
Mitchell is scheduled to meet on Thursday afternoon with Defense Minister Ehud Barak, and with Netanyahu on Friday morning. Following his meeting with the prime minister, Mitchell is scheduled to hold a day and a half of talks with Abbas and the Palestinian leadership, before meeting again with Netanyahu on Sunday morning.
Government officials said Netanyahu had no intention of acceding to the PA’s demand of starting the negotiations from the point where they broke off under Olmert, as this violated the principle in the negotiations that “nothing is agreed upon, until everything is agreed upon,” and that there was no final agreement between Abbas and Olmert.
The officials, at the same time, said it was obvious that the talks would not start up from “zero,” and that there was “a lot of room” between starting from square one and from where Olmert and Abbas left off.