Mitchell visit brings no visible success

Mitchell leaves without

netanyahu mitchell shake hands again 248 (photo credit: Amos BenGershom / Government Press Office)
netanyahu mitchell shake hands again 248
(photo credit: Amos BenGershom / Government Press Office)
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu is scheduled to open the Knesset's winter session on Monday with a diplomatic speech that, despite two meetings in the last three days with US Middle East envoy George Mitchell, is not expected to include an announcement of a renewal of negotiations with the Palestinians. A good part of the speech is expected to deal not with the Mitchell mission, but rather with the Goldstone Commission report. Netanyahu has said repeatedly that the document, which accuses Israel of war crimes during Operation Cast Lead, will harm the diplomatic process, because it calls into question the legitimacy of Israel acting in self-defense, something that will make it unlikely for Israel to be willing to take risks for peace. The prime minister met on Sunday afternoon with Mitchell, who wrapped up a five-day visit to the region without announcing any movement toward his elusive goal of putting together a package that would enable the restart of Israeli-Palestinian negotiations. They also met on Friday. The Prime Minister's Office, which has taken to providing almost no details of the Mitchell-Netanyahu meetings, put out a laconic statement saying the two men, joined by Defense Minister Ehud Barak, met for more than an hour, and "continued their discussions on moving the peace process forward." The statement said that Netanyahu's envoy Yitzhak Molcho, as well as Barak's chief of staff Michael Herzog, would travel to Washington later this week to continue the discussions. US President Barack Obama has directed Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to update him, by the middle of October, on the status of the negotiations Mitchell is conducting with Israel, the Palestinians and the Arab world on getting agreement on relaunching talks. Mitchell flew to Egypt on Saturday night for talks with Foreign Minister Ahmed Abul Gheit and intelligence chief Omar Suleiman. "Everyone who truly believes in peace has to take responsibility to take actions to achieve that goal," Mitchell said in Egypt. The Obama administration has so far failed to get the Arab world, especially Saudi Arabia, to commit to normalization gestures to Israel as part of a package that would lead to a relaunch of negotiations. Netanyahu has said that any moratorium on settlement construction needed to be met by gestures from the Arab world. Also on Sunday, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman left for a five-day visit to Kazakhstan and Austria. He is scheduled to meet in Kazakhstan with President Nursultan Nazarbayev and top government officials, and in Austria with Foreign Minister Michael Spindelegger. Lieberman put out a statement saying it was extremely important for Israel to strengthen relations with moderate Muslim states such as Kazakhstan. These countries show that a genuine dialogue can be established and significant cooperation can be achieved between Israel and Muslim states, he said. Representatives of moderate Arab regimes, such as Jordan and Egypt, have consistently refused to meet with Lieberman. Kazakhstan is scheduled to take over the chairmanship of the Organization of the Islamic Conference, an organization of 57 Muslim countries, in 2011.