PM and Mitchell to discuss PA talks
Spanish FM postpones scheduled meeting with Lieberman to meet Hugo Chavez.
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu's scheduled meeting with US envoy George Mitchell on Monday will deal not only with the settlement issue, but also with a timeline and the parameters of talks that are expected to be launched with the Palestinians on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly meeting later this month.
Although no formal announcement has yet been made, Mitchell is expected to arrive in Israel either Saturday night or Sunday for another round of talks. It is not clear whether he will be going to other states in the region.
According to diplomatic officials in the US, President Barack Obama is keen on some kind of foreign policy success at what some - because of the intense debate surrounding his health care reform - are calling a "defining period" of his young presidency.
Among the issues expected to be discussed between Netanyahu and Mitchell, according to diplomatic sources, were the gestures that Israel could expect from the Arab world in exchange for a declaration of a temporary settlement moratorium. Netanyahu is expected to reiterate to Mitchell that a settlement construction moratorium is only sustainable if he can show the public that this time the diplomatic process is different and includes elements - such as significant regional participation from the outset - that have not been seen before.
What Netanyahu wants to discuss with Mitchell is what needs to be done to ensure that the next round of talks will be different from the previous ones, which all ended in failure. One idea that needed to be thrashed out, according to Israeli officials, was how to integrate the "bottom up" approach to peace making into the diplomatic process in such a way that economic and security progress would help move the process forward.
Regarding settlement construction, a number of outstanding issues still have to be dealt with.
The first is the length of the settlement construction moratorium, with Israel wanting to see a six month freeze that could be extended if the Arab world made significant normalization gestures.
Regardless of the length, however, it was clear that the moratorium would not be indefinite, so an "exit strategy" still had to be worked out. What this meant, according to Israeli officials, was to set out guidelines as to where and how building in the settlements could continue once the freeze ended.
In addition, discussion is still taking place on the nature of the freeze itself, with Israel wanting to halt approval for new private housing units, but not for construction of public buildings such as classrooms, health clinics and synagogues. Israel, in the talks, has made a clear distinction between urgent needs in the settlements that were needed to ensure a continuation of "normal life," such as the addition on new classrooms, and "long term" needs that could be put off until after a moratorium.
In a related development, Spanish Foreign Minister Miguel Moratinos cancelled a planned meeting Friday morning with Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman because Spanish Prime Minister JosÃ© Luis Rodriguez Zapatero wanted him at a meeting in Madrid with Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.
Chavez arrived in Spain after he visited Iran, where he told Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad that Venezuela would be happy to supply Iran with gasoline in case international sanctions called for a halt to fuel exports to Iran.
Lieberman's office said Moratinos called him to apologize for the cancellation, and that the two would meet later in the month at the UN General Assembly meeting in New York.
MK Robert Tibayev, No. 20 on Kadima's list, said that "despite our differences with Lieberman, the fact that the Spanish foreign minister cancels a meeting with the Israeli foreign minister in order to be present at a meeting with the dictator from Venezuela, testifies first and foremost to the distorted priorities of the Spanish government."