'US tone more positive since talks'

Officials in J'lem say White House pushing for direct negotiations.

Barack Obama. (photo credit: Associated Press)
Barack Obama.
(photo credit: Associated Press)
WASHINGTON – With long-awaited proximity talks finally under way between Israelis and Palestinians, Israeli officials are detecting a warmer tone coming from Washington.
The talks follow weeks of deep tension between the US and Israel over disagreements on the nature of the negotiations and what Israeli gestures were needed to get the Palestinians on board.
During that time, the US made clear its displeasure over Israeli actions – notably the announcement of more construction in Jewish neighborhoods in east Jerusalem – while Israel felt it was being blamed more than Palestinians for the stalemate, when it was the latter who were refusing to come to the table.
But with the launch of talks this past week, Israeli officials said Wednesday that the mood had brightened, with a positive phone call between US President Barack Obama and Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu last Monday and follow-up with US Middle East envoy George Mitchell after that.
At the same time, they pointed to a tougher line that the administration seemed to be taking with the Palestinians, pushing harder against incitement and calling for the indirect talks to move quickly to face-to-face negotiations.
That message was one Obama stressed Tuesday in a phone conversation with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.
Despite talks having finally begun, differences remain regarding whateach party is looking to get out of them, with Palestinians expected tofocus on final-status issues like Jerusalem and borders, and Israelpreferring to start with environmental and economic issues.
Mitchell is due back in the region over Shavuot to hold another roundof talks with Israelis and Palestinians. But it hasn’t been made clearhow he will manage the differing agendas of the two sides or to whatdegree he’ll present American proposals to resolve any impasses. Italso hasn’t been clarified what means the US will employ to hold thetwo sides accountable, as Mitchell warned would happen in announcingthe launch of talks, and as Obama reiterated to Abbas during theirphone call Tuesday.
Obama will also have a chance to talk directly with Abbas in the nearfuture, as he extended an invitation for the Palestinian leader tovisit the White House during the call. The visit will be watchedcarefully, after Netanyahu met with Obama in March under a total mediablackout without so much as the release of an official photo.