Mitchell meetings fail to produce direct talks

PA president to consult with Mubarak, Abdullah today.

311_Bibi and mitchell (photo credit: Associated Press)
311_Bibi and mitchell
(photo credit: Associated Press)
An announcement of the restart of direct Palestinian- Israeli talks continued to elude US envoy George Mitchell Wednesday, though US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called talks he held with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu a “good, productive” meeting.
Speaking in Washington, Clinton said that the US was continuing to work closely with both sides “to get to direct talks as soon as possible,” though she gave no indication of an imminent breakthrough.
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Mitchell, who arrived Monday night, was scheduled to leave for Washington Wednesday evening, following separate meetings during the day with Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak. Mitchell’s meeting with Netanyahu lasted for about two hours, but neither side provided any details of the talks afterward.
Mitchell met Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas the day before.
Following the talks with both sides, US officials continued to speak Wednesday of “cautious optimism” that progress was being made, though there were no details of exactly what that entailed.
Abbas, along with Jordan’s King Abdullah, is scheduled to travel to Cairo Thursday for discussions with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak on the latest developments surrounding the peace process.
The trilateral summit will focus on US pressure on the Palestinians to launch direct talks, a senior PA official in Ramallah said. Egypt and Jordan, according to Israeli officials, have also been urging the PA to return to talks.
Nimer Hammad, political adviser to Abbas, said the PA president was planning to brief Mubarak and Abdullah on the outcome of his talks with Mitchell.
Following the Abbas-Mitchell meeting on Tuesday, PA officials issued contradictory statements regarding the prospects of conducting direct talks.
Chief PA negotiator Saeb Erekat told reporters that the Abbas-Mitchell talks had ended without achieving results. He stressed that the PA was sticking to its position that Israel should first recognize the 1967 lines as the future borders of a Palestinian state and halt settlement construction as a precondition for entering into direct talks.
However, another PA official who spoke (in English) on condition of anonymity later told reporters that progress had been achieved during the Abbas-Mitchell talks. The official claimed that the US administration had agreed to provide the Palestinians with a public commitment that the direct talks would lead to the establishment of a Palestinian state on the basis of the 1967 lines.
The same official also hinted that the Palestinian leadership, despite its public position, had in fact agreed to launch direct talks with Israel in the near future.
The official’s claim that the US had agreed to provide the Palestinians with a guarantee that direct talks would lead to a Palestinian state based on the 1967 borders was questioned by one US official, who said that while the Palestinians were seeking US guarantees, “we are very sincere in saying that they need to sit down and do this face to face. Any other understanding that would preempt sitting and talking together is not best for the process.”
In a related development, Netanyahu released a video message with holiday greetings to Muslims in Israel and around the world, wishing them an easy fast as Ramadan began on Wednesday.
“We are marking this important month at a time of our efforts to reach direct negotiations with the Palestinians and move forward peace agreements with our Arab neighbors,” he said. “I know that you are partners in this goal, and request your help, support and prayers” to reach “peaceful, harmonious coexistence.”