Middle East News
Israelis, Palestinians to start contacts on peace talks (Roundup)
Sep 23, 2009, 14:06 GMT
Jerusalem - Israeli and Palestinian negotiators will begin intense US-mediated contacts in the coming weeks, in a bid to restart stalled peace talks as early as this autumn.
US Middle East envoy George Mitchell will meet officials from both sides on Thursday, and Israeli and Palestinian officials will head to Washington for more talks next week.
'We're now going to enter into an intensive, yet brief, period of discussion in an effort to relaunch negotiations,' Mitchell told reporters in New York after President Barack Obama, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas met Tuesday night.
Speaking as he was about to host the meeting, Obama said he had instructed Secretary of State Hillary Clinton 'to report to me on the status of these negotiations in mid-October.'
Peace talks between the sides were suspended last year as Israel began an election campaign. They have not yet been renewed.
Abbas has insisted that negotiations will not resume unless Israel completely freezes construction in West Bank settlements. Netanyahu has refused to do so, although he has said Israel will agree to a limited, temporary freeze, a compromise the Palestinians rejected.
Abbas also named a settlement freeze as a condition for attending the trilateral meeting Obama wanted to host.
Mitchell, despite intense mediation, was unable to bridge the gaps between the sides. On Tuesday, Obama rebuked Netanyahu and Abbas, saying that 'simply put, it is past time to talk about starting negotiations - it is time to move forward.'
A senior administration official told Israeli media in an off-the- record briefing that the president expressed his 'impatience' during the meeting, which was 'businesslike,' but not cordial.
The unnamed official said Washington's objective was to advance matters and resume talks within a few weeks 'at a public launch event.'
Netanyahu told CNN that the dispute over a settlement freeze was 'costing us a great deal of time.'
'They issue of settlements has to be discussed at the end or in the context within these negotiations, not before,' he said.
He said that while he did not want to set a timetable, 'the sooner we get going, the sooner we'll get an agreement.'
But Yasser Abed Rabbo, a senior advisor to Abbas, told the al- Ayyam daily that the Palestinian message 'was clear and we did not retreat from out positions.'
He said, from a Palestinian viewpoint, backing away from its views would not lead to successful negotiations, 'but rather to a political disaster and total failure of the peace process.'
Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, for his part, told Israel Radio that the Israeli government had kept its promise to the voters not to cave in on the settlement issued in order for the summit to take place.
The foreign minister, an outspoken sceptic about the chances of an Iaraeli-Palestinian deal being reached soon, said that at Tuesday's meeting there was an 'understanding' of the difficulties which lie ahead
He cautioned against holding a 'a stopwatch' to negotiations and creating unrealistic expectations.
Meanwhile, the Islamic Hamas movement, which controls the Gaza Strip, and is the fierce rival of Abbas' Fatah party, said Wednesday that the New York meeting reflected a US withdrawal from 'basic legitimate Palestinian rights.'
Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri said the meeting was 'an unsuccessful media attempt' and Netanyahu was the only one to benefit from it.