Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Mitchell: US and Israel 'remain close allies and friends'

From THE JERUSALEM POST Jun. 9, 2009 by herb keinon, staff and AP:

US envoy George Mitchell began a new swing through the Mideast on Tuesday ..."I want to begin by stating again, clearly and emphatically, beyond any doubt, that the United States' commitment to the security of Israel remains unshakable," said Mitchell alongside President Shimon Peres in Jerusalem. ..."We all share an obligation to create the conditions for the prompt resumption and early conclusion of negotiations," Mitchell continued.

He also tried to calm Israeli nerves, saying the policy gaps "are not disagreements among adversaries" and that the two countries "remain close allies and friends."

Peres said that there was "a great opportunity for peace" but pointed out that the emphasis that the US has put on halting all settlement activity, including construction due to population growth, was detrimental to the process.

...In Mitchell's earlier meeting with Defense Minister Ehud Barak, the two discussed the question of settlement construction, Barak's office said in a statement. No further details were released.

Mitchell will also meet Tuesday with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman.

...On Wednesday, Mitchell will travel to Ramallah for meetings with top Palestinian Authority officials, before returning to Jerusalem to meet with opposition leader Tzipi Livni.

The State Department has not released the rest of Mitchell's itinerary, leading to speculation that after leaving Israel he will travel either to Syria, Lebanon or both.

If Mitchell goes to Syria, it would be his first trip there since taking up his job in January, although two other senior administration officials have gone there twice in the last three months.
Mitchell is not only mandated to deal with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but also with the whole regional context, and in previous trips has visited Tunisia, Morocco, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Egypt and the Persian Gulf countries.

Obama has made clear that he would like to see the Arab world take steps towards Israel at the beginning of the diplomatic process, something Mitchell is believed to be discussing with the Arab countries.

Although the State Department said that Mitchell plans to set up an office in Jerusalem, he is not expected to do so during this trip.

Mitchell arrived from Oslo, where he took part in a donors' conference for the Palestinian Authority, called the Ad Hoc Liaison Committee.

Reuters quoted Mitchell as saying that the president wanted "immediate" talks to begin between the Palestinians and Israel to forge a comprehensive Middle East peace agreement.

....Mitchell said the purpose of the donors' meeting was to "provide support for the Palestinian Authority" and pave the way for a two-state solution with Israel. "It's important that there is a building of institutions and governmental capacity so that at an early time there can be an independent and viable Palestinian state," Mitchell said.

The Palestinian Authority has said it would not renew talks with Israel until the Netanyahu government stopped settlement construction and formally accepted a two-state solution.

A senior Israeli government source said that Netanyahu had said from his first day in office that he was ready to begin immediate talks with the Palestinians.

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