Clinton to join 2nd round of talks in Sharm, Jerusalem

US officials say talks between Netanyahu and Abbas will take place in unconfirmed location on Sept.15 a day after discussions in Sharm el-Sheik.

311_Netanyahu, Clinton, Abbas and Mitchell at table (photo credit: Moshe Milner / GPO)
311_Netanyahu, Clinton, Abbas and Mitchell at table
(photo credit: Moshe Milner / GPO)
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will take part in the second round of negotiations between Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in Sharm e- Sheikh on September 14, and then continue the discussions “with both parties” the next day in Jerusalem, the State Department announced Sunday.
According to a State Department official, Clinton will be accompanied by US Mideast envoy George Mitchell. It was not immediately clear whether the secretary’s meetings in Jerusalem would be another trilateral session with Netanyahu and Abbas, or separate sessions with both sides.
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Sunday’s announcement showed what Clinton meant when she said last Thursday at the State Department launch of direct talks that “the United States has pledged its full support for these talks, and we will be an active and sustained partner.”
She also said that the US “will not impose a solution,” and that only the leaders could “make the decisions necessary to reach an agreement and secure a peaceful future for the Israeli and Palestinian people.”
The heads of both sides’ negotiating teams – Yitzhak Molcho for Israel and Saeb Erekat for the Palestinian Authority – are expected to meet this week in Jerusalem before Rosh Hashana. Molcho will probably be joined by the Foreign Ministry’s Daniel Taub.
Meanwhile, in private conversations on Sunday, Netanyahu said that several Arab countries were willing to take steps – that may come into effect soon – to “warm up” relations with Israel.
Government sources who heard Netanyahu make these comments would not name the countries, but did say that Saudi Arabia was not one of them.
The sources would also not say whether the countries being discussed were in North Africa or the Persian Gulf. They did say, however, that Netanyahu heard about this willingness during his meetings in Washington last week.
US President Barack Obama, soon after taking office last year, appealed to the Arab world to undertake confidence-building measures toward Israel within the framework of attempts to restart Israeli-Palestinian talks.
For example, he asked Saudi Arabia to let Israeli civilian aircraft fly over its territory on the way to the Far East. These appeals, however, failed to bear fruit.
Now, however, the sources said there were forces in the Arab world that wanted to support the direct talks between Israel and the Palestinians, and which have expressed a “readiness to engage with Israel as part of this process.”
Netanyahu, in an update on the Washington talks he gave his ministers at Sunday’s cabinet meeting, said he wanted to thank Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and Jordanian King Abdullah II – who both took part in the Washington talks – for “consistent willingness” to advance the peace process between Israel and Palestinians, as well as “between us and the entire Arab world.”
“Even if there are important countries in the Arab world that have yet to line up behind the peace process, my impression is [that] the willingness of President Mubarak and King Abdullah to attend reflects a sense of readiness that exists in the Arab world, that this is the time to try and complete a peace settlement between us and the Palestinians and to expand it into a broader cycle of peace,” the prime minister said. “In my estimation, this sense stems both from an understanding of the significance of the alternatives and from the recognition that they simply must make peace with Israel.”
Israeli officials have been saying for years that Arab leaders, when speaking in private, say their primary fear is not of Israel, but of Iran.
Netanyahu told the cabinet that the start of the Washington talks represented “an important step en route to a framework agreement between us and the Palestinians.”
The prime minister reiterated what he said in Washington – that in order for the negotiations to succeed, it was important to “study the lessons of the 17-year effort at negotiations and to embrace original thinking, to think outside the box, as it were. We will need to think creatively, and in new ways, about how to resolve complex problems,” he said.
“In order to reach practical solutions, we will need to think about new solutions to old problems,” Netanyahu continued.
“I believe that this is possible.
I am willing to achieve an historic compromise with our Palestinian neighbors so long as it maintains the national interests of the State of Israel with security first and foremost.”
In other meetings Sunday, Netanyahu said no solution had yet been found to disagreements over whether the settlement construction moratorium would be extended beyond September 26, the day it is set to expire. Nevertheless, the Associated Press quoted Defense Minister Ehud Barak as saying Sunday that the moratorium was unlikely to continue in its current form. However, the report said, Barak did not believe Israel would completely cancel the 10-month moratorium.
One of the ideas being floated around for months is that settlement construction would be allowed inside the large settlement blocks like Gush Etzion and Ma’ale Adumim, which Israel intends to hold as part of any agreement, but that it would continue to curb building in settlements beyond the security fence.
Netanyahu has kept his cards on the issue very close to his chest, refusing to reveal how he intends to deal with the matter.
The Palestinians have said that they would bolt the talks if construction starts up again in the settlements.
At a meeting with Clinton last week, Netanyahu said the government decision regarding the moratorium would expire at the end of the month. He did not say what the government would do at that time.
Both Israel and the Americans have been trying to play down the importance of the issue by avoiding significant public declarations.
Palestinian spokesmen, however, are continuing to thrust it high on the public agenda.
In a related development, Netanyahu is scheduled to meet Monday with Noam and Aviva Schalit, the parents of kidnapped soldier Gilad Schalit. Before he went to Washington last week, Netanyahu had promised to meet the Schalits immediately upon his return. He will be joined by his point-man on the issue, Hagai Hadas.