Mitchell, Ashton to meet leaders for peace talks push
The two will meet PM in Caesarea followed by Abbas in Ramallah; White House denies Obama sent Israel a letter offering security guarantees.
By TOVAH LAZAROFF, KHALED ABU TOAMEH, GILL HOFF
US special envoy George Mitchell and EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton are to meet with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu in Caesarea on Friday morning, and will then proceed directly to Ramallah to meet with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, in an attempt to progress the talks.The meetings come following reports on Thursday that US President Barack Obama had sent Israel a draft letter in which he offered security guarantees – including a continued Israeli military presence in the Jordan Valley after the creation of a Palestinian state – if Israel in exchange reinstituted the moratorium on new settlement construction for 60 days.RELATED:Netanyahu: I am committed to peace with PalestiniansAbbas: If peace talks fail, Israel will be to blameArab League chief: No peace talks if Israel starts buildingA White House and a State Department official denied the existence of such a letter.AdvertisementThe Palestinians have threatened to walk away from the direct negotiations that began in early September if Israel does not reinstate the moratorium that expired on Sunday, 10-months after it was imposed by the government.As of Thursday night, intense coordinated diplomatic efforts by the US and Europe had yet to break the impasse between Israel and the Palestinians over the issue of settlement construction that threatens to put a halt to the fledgling negotiations between the parties.US special envoy George Mitchell, who arrived on Tuesday, planned to hold a second round of meetings on Friday with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in hopes of breaking the deadlock.EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, who arrived on Thursday for a twoday visit, directly after meeting with US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in Washington, also plans to meet with both Netanyahu and Abbas.The Arab League foreign ministers, who were expected to meet in Cairo next Monday to decide whether Abbas should continue with the negotiations, opted to delay the meeting for two days to give the US administration a chance to persuade the Israeli government to extend the settlement freeze.The State Department official refused to comment to The Jerusalem Post on the possibility that security pledges and diplomatic incentives had been extended to Israel in the course of the negotiations but had not yet been forwarded to Israel in writing, because no conclusive agreement had been reached on the matter.The Prime Minister’s Office had no comment on the issue of the letter whose contents were first reported on Thursday by David Makovsky of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.“At its core, the draft letter offers a string of assurances to Israel in return for a two-month moratorium extension. More specifically, US officials indicate that the document makes commitments on issues ranging from current peace and security matters to future weapons deliveries in the event that peace-related security arrangements are reached,” Makovsky wrote.According to Makovsky, the US would not seek a second extension of the moratorium past 60 days. It promised that the US would veto any UN Security Council initiative that related to the peace process during the one-year timetable for negotiations.In the letter the US, according to Makovsky, promised to accept the legitimacy of Israel’s security needs, including a ban on weapons smuggling and “the infiltration of terrorists” into Israel. It also discussed the need to “enhance Israel’s defense capabilities” by increasing military assistance.Finally, the US, according to Makovsky, promised to “engage” Israel and Arab states in discussions of a “regional security architecture” with an eye toward Iran.Israeli politicians who believe Netanyahu has rejected Obama’s offer reacted to the report on Thursday night.Kadima’s deputy faction chairman, MK Yohanan Plesner, slammed Netanyahu for apparently turning down the president.“Netanyahu prefers to continue strengthening his government of national paralysis with the extreme Right than accept unprecedented American commitments at the expense of the citizens of Israel and their security,” Plesner said.Kadima MK Yoel Hasson accused Netanyahu of “acting like a political hack” and not a leader and of “missing an important opportunity due to his narrow political interests.”But Likud hawk MK Danny Danon praised Netanyahu for standing up to the president of the United States. He advised Netanyahu to wait for an American president who would not pressure Israel to take steps that the overwhelming majority of Israelis oppose.“We don’t work for President Obama,” Danon said. “It is clear that all his promises for the finalstatus agreement are baseless, because by the time there will be a final-status agreement, Obama will have already been voted out of office.”The PA on Thursday renewed its call to extend the moratorium on settlement construction and expressed hope that the US administration would succeed in putting enough pressure on Israel in this regard.On Thursday, Mitchell meet with Abbas in Ramallah for two hours, in a meeting that chief PA negotiator Saeb Erekat described as “thorough.”“The Israeli government holds the keys to the continuation of the peace talks,” Erekat said. “We have repeatedly asked the Israeli government to halt settlement construction, including natural growth, so as to give the peace process the chance it deserves.”Erekat said the Palestinians seek peace and appreciate the efforts the US is making in this regard.“We hope that the US administration and the international community would succeed in obliging Israel to fulfill its commitments, especially with regards to stopping construction in the settlements,” he said.Mitchell said after the meeting with Abbas that Washington was determined to pursue its efforts to achieve peace in the region.“We will continue our efforts to find common ground between the parties to enable the direct negotiations to continue in a manner that we hope will lead to an agreement,” he declared.“President Obama’s vision of comprehensive peace in the Middle East remains our primary goal in the region. That means Israel and the Palestinians reaching agreement on the two-state solution with security and prosperity for both peoples.”Speaking to the media before his meeting with Mitchell on Wednesday, Netanyahu said that he intended to pursue a peace deal with the Palestinians.“There are many skeptics and many doubts – there are many obstacles on the road to peace. There is only one way to prove them right. That is not to try. We are committed and I am committed to trying to get to a peace agreement that will secure Israel’s security and other vital national interests. That is my goal and that is our policy.”Jpost.com staff contributed to this report.
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