Proximity talks to begin Wednesday

Mitchell to return Monday to mediate Israeli-Palestinian negotiations.

george mitchell 311 (photo credit: AP)
george mitchell 311
(photo credit: AP)
US special envoy George Mitchell is due to return to the region Monday to start Israeli-Palestinian proximity talks on Wednesday, as Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu plans to meet Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak in Sharm e-Sheikh to seek his advice and support for the peace process.
It’s the fourth meeting between the two leaders since Netanyahu took office in March 2009. Industry, Trade and Labor Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer will travel with the prime minister.
“First and foremost we will be talking with him about the peace process. We want to hear from him because he is an experienced leader and the prime minister has immense respect for his understanding of the issues and his political experience,” a government official told The Jerusalem Post.
It is unlikely that Egypt would be directly involved, “but we would like to see the Arab world support the process,” the official said.
On Saturday, the Arab League in Cairo cautiously endorsed the proximity talks. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas now needs to seek the approval of the PLO Executive Committee.
In light of the Arab League vote, it is expected that the PLO would also back the proximity talks when it convenes this week.
A diplomatic source said that Mitchell was heading to the region with the full expectation that proximity talks would get under way. He is expected to meet with Netanyahu and Abbas during his stay, but no dates for the meetings have been set.
The proximity talks are expected to look very much like past conversations with the two leaders, with Mitchell shuttling back and forth between them.
Israel willing to 'discuss all core issues'
In advance of the talks Israel has said it would be willing to discuss all core issues such as Jerusalem, refugees, borders, a demilitarized Palestinian state and recognition of Israel as a Jewish state. It cautioned, though, that these issues could be resolved only through direct negotiations.
With an eye toward the proximity talks, Abbas said that he has already demanded sole control over large sections of the West Bank, including those under total Israeli sovereignty. Abbas said that he demanded the Jordan Valley.
An Israeli official said in response that in the past, the prime minister has said that Israel would need to maintain a presence on that eastern border.
Indirect talks will cover core issues'PA boycott harms proximity talks'
In an interview with the West Bank newspaper Al-Ayam, which was published Sunday, Abbas estimated that the sides would hold proximity talks for up to four months, but was pessimistic about their results.
“I don’t want to lose hope,” Abbas said, “even though I see many obstacles and feel that there are many in Israel who are not interested in peace. We still have to try to go on this path until we exhaust it.”
Abbas also announced that he wants to renew the PA’s activity in Jerusalem in the now-closed Orient House and the Palestinian Trade Bureau in the eastern part of the city.
“The purpose is to return, within a few months, to the situation that we had before the intifada, with gradual and significant additions of territory that will be transferred to full Palestinian control,” he explained.
Abbas said that he would meet US President Barack Obama this month in Washington. The US Embassy has said it could not confirm this invitation.
“The Americans understand that establishing a Palestinian state is a strategic American interest. Therefore, they are investing serious efforts” in the proximity talks, he said.
Direct negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians broke down during Operation Cast Lead. They were not resumed when Netanyahu took office, in spite of the prime minister’s repeated calls for direct talks with the Palestinians.
The Palestinians have insisted that Israel must halt construction in east Jerusalem and in the West Bank settlements before they would engage with Israel either directly or indirectly.
Israel has refused to place preconditions on the talks and has insisted that it has no plan to stop construction either in the West Bank or east Jerusalem.
On November 26, however, Israel did impose a 10-month moratorium on new construction in the settlements.
An Israeli official said, “We are going into the process with the best of intentions. If the Palestinians come to the process in good faith, we can move quickly from proximity talks to direct talks.”
Jerusalem Post staff contributed to this report.