Mitchell to Return to Mideast; Palestinians Prepare for `Endgame'
U.S. envoy George Mitchell returns to mediate a second round of Middle East talks this week after Israel said it is through making gestures and a Palestinian negotiator said he’s ready for the “endgame.”
Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Daniel Ayalon said yesterday his country has taken enough measures to build confidence for Middle East peace negotiations and Palestinians must prove they’re serious about the process.
“I don’t think Israel should do any more,” Ayalon said in an interview at the Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem. “We have done everything we could in economic and humanitarian terms, in terms of political gestures, and now it is up to them.”
Israel and the Palestinians started indirect U.S.-mediated “proximity” talks during a visit by U.S. Middle East envoy George Mitchell earlier this month. The negotiations, which allow the sides to start talking without meeting, are the first such breakthrough since talks ended in December 2008.
Mitchell is scheduled to resume his shuttling this week between Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in the West Bank city of Ramallah, said Kurt Hoyer, the U.S. Embassy spokesman in Tel Aviv. He said it was not yet determined what day Mitchell will arrive.
The negotiations began after Israel promised not to build for two years in an east Jerusalem neighborhood and Palestinians agreed to try to stop anti-Israeli incitement. Israel agreed to postpone the construction in Jerusalem after repeated calls by U.S. officials, including President Barack Obama, to stop settlement building.
Israel captured east Jerusalem from Jordan in the 1967 Middle East war. The area is sought by the Palestinians as the capital of their state.
Saeb Erakat, who leads the Palestinian negotiating team, declined to respond to Ayalon’s comments. “I don’t want to get into an argument over gestures,” he said in a telephone interview. “We’re in the proximity talks now and I’m going to try to give Mitchell the chance he deserves to help them succeed.”
Erakat later told an Israeli audience in Tel Aviv that he believes the Mitchell-mediated talks could lead to an overall peace agreement with the Palestinian Authority and all Arab countries.
“I’m going to demonstrate once and for all that as Palestinian leader, Mahmoud Abbas is fully ready for what it takes to achieve the endgame,” Erakat said in an address to the Institute for National Security Studies at Tel Aviv University.
Need for Decisions
“It’s doable,” Erakat said. “We don’t need negotiations anymore. We need decisions. We have turned every stone.”
Israel has removed roadblocks throughout the West Bank to boost the Palestinian economy, called a 10-month partial construction freeze in Jewish settlements and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu agreed that a peace agreement would lead to the establishment of a Palestinian state, Ayalon said.
At least 180 roadblocks have been taken down across the West Bank since 2007, army spokeswoman Major Avital Leibovitz said. The Palestinian economy expanded 6.8 percent last year, the International Monetary Fund said last month.
Meanwhile, Palestinians called for a boycott of Israeli goods produced in West Bank Jewish settlements. The Palestinians also urged members of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development not to accept Israel before the Jewish state’s membership was approved last week, Ayalon said.
‘Call of Duty’
“The Palestinians go beyond the ‘call of duty’ in trying to delegitimize Israel and attack it,” Ayalon said. “This is not acceptable.”
In a letter to OECD members, the Palestinian Authority said that admitting Israel into the organization “would be like accepting its occupation of the Palestinian territories.”
Asked about the OECD letter at the Israeli institute last night, Erakat said both Israelis and Palestinians have continued to inflict harm on each other.
“The sooner we reach peace, the better it will be for you and for us,” he said.
The previous round of Israeli-Palestinian negotiations ground to a halt at the start of an Israeli military initiative in the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip that the government said was intended to stop cross-border rocket attacks against its southern towns and cities.
The Hamas-run Ministry of Health in Gaza said 1,450 Palestinians were killed during the offensive, while Israel put the number at 1,166. The army said 13 Israelis were killed in the fighting.
The militant Islamic group Hamas is considered a terrorist organization by the U.S., the European Union and Israel.