Mitchel, Arabs meet in Cairo to discuss proximity talks

AFP and Ahram Online, Wednesday 15 Dec 2010

US Middle East envoy George Mitchell is back in the region with "ideas" days after Washington officially admitted its failure to stop Israel's illegal settlement expansion in the Occupied Palestinian Territories

Palestinian women AP photo
Palestinian women, walk next to a mural depicting the Al-Aqsa mosque in the West Bank town of Jenin, Saturday, Dec. 11, 2010. (AP Photo/Mohammed Ballas)


US envoy George Mitchell and Palestinian leader Mahmud Abbas will hold separate talks in Cairo today with President Hosni Mubarak and Arab League officials as Washington sought to rescue battered Mideast peace talks.

Mitchell and Abbas arrived here Tuesday following inconclusive face-to-face talks in the West Bank city of Ramallah during which the US envoy raised "ideas" to inject new life in the peace process. It appears that Mitchel is trying to persuade the Palestinians to return to proximity talks with Israel, after Washington announced last week that it failed to stop Israel's settlement expansion in occupied Palestinian territory.

The Palestinians insist they want Israel to stop building settlements in the occupied West Bank and annexed east Jerusalem before they consider a return to negotiations as they obstruct the creation of a viable Palestinian state in the future.

Mitchell meets separately with Mubarak and Arab League chief Amr Moussa, while Abbas in the morning meets with Mubarak ahead of an evening meeting to brief an Arab peace follow-up committee on latest developments.

The US Middle East envoy returned to the region on Monday, a week after Washington admitted it had failed to persuade Israel to stop settlement building on occupied land.

"Mitchell brought some US ideas," Abbas spokesman Nabil Abu Rudeina said after Tuesday's meeting between the envoy and the Palestinian president in Ramallah.

"We will wait for the Arab Committee to discuss (them) and to decide," he said, referring to a meeting of Arab League foreign ministers in Cairo on Wednesday which Abbas is due to attend.

"We will continue discussions with the Arabs to decide the coming steps," Abu Rudeina said.

Last week Abbas dispatched chief negotiator Saeb Erakat to Washington for talks with US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and to deliver a letter listing Palestinian conditions for a return to talks with Israel.

"Erakat delivered a letter to Clinton saying that they want US guarantees and answers before returning to any negotiations, direct or indirect," a senior Palestinian source told AFP on Tuesday ahead of the Abbas-Mitchell talks.

"We are now awaiting the answer to that letter" which outlines two key Palestinian conditions to return to peace talks with Israel.

The first demand is for US guarantees ensuring "a complete halt to settlement in the West Bank and east Jerusalem."

Palestinians also call for US recognition of a Palestinian state based on Israel's borders of before the 1967  War in which Israel occupied the West Bank, the Gaza Strip and east Jerusalem.

If Washington refuses, the letter asks that it not take steps to block the Palestinians from seeking such recognition from the UN Security Council.

Abbas told Mitchell on Tuesday that all Israeli settlement activity must be frozen in the West Bank and annexed east Jerusalem, Erakat said.

"Anyone who talks about comprehensive peace must stop settlement building and Israeli activities," he said.

Mitchell acknowledged that the road to peace was strewn with "many difficulties obstacle and setbacks" but said he was determined to pursue his efforts.

"We are determined to persevere in our efforts until we reach the conclusion that all want: an independent, viable state of Palestine ... living side by side in peace with Israel," he said on Tuesday.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meanwhile called on the Palestinians to react positively to Mitchell's ideas.

"I had a good meeting yesterday (Monday) with the American envoy... We spoke about concrete ways to push the peace process forward and reach a framework agreement for peace between us and the Palestinians," Netanyahu said Tuesday.

"That is Israel's goal and I hope the Palestinians will respond to it."

Direct talks launched September 2 were suspended three weeks later with the end of an Israeli moratorium on settlement building, which Israel has consistently refused to renew.


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