U.S. President Barack Obama has told several European leaders that if Israeli-Palestinian talks remain stalemated into September or October, he will convene an international summit on achieving Mideast peace, senior Israeli officials told Haaretz on Thursday.
The officials said the conference would be run by the Quartet of Middle East peacemakers - the United States, European Union, United Nations and Russia - in a bid to forge a united global front for creating a Palestinian state. The summit, they said, would address such core issues as borders, security arrangements, Palestinian refugees and the status of Jerusalem.
Obama is determined to exert his influence to establish a Palestinian state, the officials said, and several European leaders have vowed that the EU would support any peace plan proposed by Washington. Therefore, though so-called proximity talks are set to start in the coming weeks, Obama is already readying for the possibility that the indirect Israeli-Palestinian talks might reach a dead end.
The U.S. proposal would likely be presented by the end of this year, the officials said.
On Saturday night, Arab League foreign ministers will convene to reiterate their support for Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to begin the U.S.-mediated talks. The Arab bloc is expected to demand that the negotiations show progress within four months. September and October will thus be critical months in determining whether the talks have borne fruit.
The UN General Assembly will reconvene in late September, and that month will also mark one year since Obama hosted a largely unproductive trilateral summit with Abbas and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. In addition, September 26 marks the end of the 10-month period Israel allocated for a freeze on West Bank settlement construction, and Netanyahu will have to decide whether to allow such building to be resumed.
Israeli officials said they believe Obama could postpone the international summit, or the unveiling of his own peace plan, until after the midterm Congressional elections in November, in which his Democratic Party is widely expected to suffer heavy losses.
Meanwhile, Netanyahu has a full diplomatic schedule next week. On Monday, he will travel to Sharm al-Sheikh for talks with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak on restarting the peace process. Mubarak will likely ask Netanyahu to make goodwill gestures toward the Palestinians to demonstrate the seriousness of his intentions to advance negotiations.
U.S. special envoy George Mitchell will return to the region later in the week to meet with Netanyahu and Abbas for discussions that may serve as the first round of proximity talks.
In advance of these talks, Interior Minister Eli Yishai instructed the Jerusalem Planning and Building Committee to inform him of any plan to authorize construction that the U.S. administration might deem diplomatically sensitive.
Abbas, for his part, will visit China on Friday, and in advance of this visit, he told the state-run news agency Xinhua that the Obama administration had promised him it would work to prevent any provocative Israeli moves during the negotiations.
"We want our state to be declared under an international agreement," Abbas told the agency while visiting the Jordanian capital of Amman Thursday. "If this could not happen, the Arabs will go to the UN Security Council to get recognition of Palestinian statehood."
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