Clinton due in Israel on ME tour to push talks

Clinton due in Israel du

(photo credit:)
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US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is expected in Israel Saturday night for her third visit since taking office, on her way to a meeting in Morocco that will include a number of Arab foreign ministers. US Middle East envoy George Mitchell, who is scheduled to come to Israel shortly before Clinton, is expected to join her in Morocco. The US administration has been trying, with little success until now, to get the Arab world - particularly Saudi Arabia - to make some normalization gestures toward Israel. Clinton's visit, which aims to push forward the discussions with Israel and the Palestinians about agreeing to a framework for negotiations, will come a week before Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu travels to Washington to attend the United Jewish Communities annual General Assembly. US President Barack Obama has chosen the GA as the setting to make his first public address to a Jewish group since his inauguration in January. One source close to Obama said the speech was Obama's effort at outreach to Israel and the Jewish public. The US president has come under criticism for not supplementing his dialogue with the Arab world with any conversation with Israel. The source added that for the time being, the GA speech would be in lieu of Obama coming to Israel, saying that a time of lingering disagreement with the Netanyahu government over how to restart talks with the Palestinians was not the best time for a trip. Although Netanyahu is widely expected to meet Obama in Washington, no meeting has been formally announced. This would be the third meeting between the two since they both took office earlier this year. During her visit, Clinton is expected to ask Israel to find ways to assist Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, who is reportedly so frustrated with the current situation that he threatened to resign during two recent telephone conversations with Obama. Sources in Jerusalem downplayed the threats, however, saying that Abbas had threatened to quit a number of times in the past, and that it was likely a maneuver to get Obama to place more pressure on Israel. The Palestinians have not hidden their disappointment that Obama has been unable to get Israel to stop all construction in settlements and in Jerusalem. Asked whether Israel was likely to accede to US requests to take measures to help Abbas, who recently declared PA presidential and legislative elections in January, one government official said Israel was taking, and would continue to take, measures to "support the moderates." The steps Israel has taken in the last few months, the source said, include allowing for the Fatah convention in Bethlehem earlier this year; removing barriers and roadblocks, leading to the growth of the West Bank economy; and continuing to maintain "close and discreet" security cooperation with US-trained Palestinian security forces. Another government official said that although Abbas was not the Palestinian leader of Israel's dreams, Israel had no desire at this time to see him leave the stage, since there is no stronger leader waiting in the wings and his leaving would likely create instability in the West Bank that would be bad for Israel.