Analysis: Sides speak more with US than with each other

George Mitchell says “In the end” all the sensitive issues between Israel and the Palestinians “must be resolved by the parties themselves.”

311_Netanyahu, Abbas staring contest (photo credit: Moshe Milner / GPO )
311_Netanyahu, Abbas staring contest
(photo credit: Moshe Milner / GPO )
SHARM E-SHEIKH – “In the end,” US Mideast envoy George Mitchell said Tuesday in a press conference here following a number of meetings, all the sensitive issues between Israel and the Palestinians “must be resolved by the parties themselves.”
That’s in the end.
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In the meantime, however, the “direct talks” between Israel and the Palestinians are taking more the form of negotiations between each side and the Americans, with both the Palestinians and Israel trying to convince the US of the reasonableness of their respective positions.
This is something that became evident looking at the slate of meetings held in Sharm on Tuesday.
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu started the day with a meeting with the host of the discussions, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas also had a bilateral with Mubarak.
Netanyahu then met with US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and Abbas did the same.
Those meetings were followed by a three-way meeting that included Netanyahu, Clinton and Abbas. Then there was a four-way lunch – Mubarak, Clinton, Netanyahu, Abbas. And then, finally, there was a meeting between Netanyahu and his top negotiator, Yitzchak Molcho, with Abbas and his top man, Saeb Erekat, and of course Clinton and Mitchell.
What was sorely absent from that rich menu of talks was a private meeting between Abbas and Netanyahu. That meeting might take place Wednesday in Jerusalem, but then again it might not.
Netanyahu and Abbas will definitely be meeting in the capital, but what has not yet been decided 24 hours before that meeting was scheduled to take place was whether Clinton would once again be sitting between them.
Two rounds into the long awaited direct talks, and the dialogue seems more between the sides and Washington, then between the two sides themselves. The Palestinians are trying to convince the US of the utter necessity of an extension of the settlement construction moratorium, while Israel is trying to convince the US of the need for the Palestinians to upfront recognition of Israel as the nation state of the Jewish people.
And the US, at last in its public statements, is trying to keep both sides happy, or – at least – both sides equally unhappy. The intensive negotiations conducted with the US over this matter led Mitchell to say that the US believes it would be best for the moratorium to continue, but also that Abbas should take steps (perhaps recognition of Israel as a Jewish state?) that would make extending the moratorium politically easier for Netanyahu.
“Our position on settlements is well known and remains unchanged,” Mitchell said. “As President Obama said just recently, we think it makes sense to extend the moratorium; especially given that the talks are moving in a constructive direction. We know that this is a politically sensitive issue in Israel. And we have also called on President Abbas to take steps that help encourage and facilitate this process.”
Mitchell was careful in his comment not to stray at all from comments Obama, Clinton or he himself has made in the past about the current diplomatic process. He charted no new ground in his briefing.
What he did do, however, was say for the first time that the parties have “begun a serious discussion on core issues,” adding that the “work is well underway” on achieving a “framework agreement for permanent status” within a year.
Although unwilling to be more specific about those issues, he said “several” were discussed “in a very serious, detailed, and extensive discussion.”
And if the discussion regarding the moratorium is any indication, these core issues were also discussed with the US very much in the middle – each side trying to persuade the US, so the US will pressure the other party.