Washington is now considering the possibility of launching "proximity talks" between Israel and the Palestinians, as Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas continues to object to direct talks.
Under this plan, U.S. special envoy George Mitchell and his staff would meet separately with both parties, present each side's positions to the other and then try to bridge the gaps. This is the same system both George Bush Sr. and Bill Clinton used (unsuccessfully) for Israeli-Syrian talks.
The idea arose after Abbas made it clear to both the United States and Egypt that he would not meet Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu unless Israel pledged to completely freeze all construction in the West Bank and East Jerusalem for five months after the talks began. Israel refuses to do so.
Abbas told his associates that he opposed an alternative American proposal - of giving him a letter guaranteeing that any agreement would be based on the 1967 borders - because the United States planned to balance this with a letter giving Israel certain guarantees.
Abbas said he has lost faith in the Obama administration, because it "betrayed" him by backing down on its initial demand for a complete settlement freeze. He also said that Netanyahu did not offer any new ideas at a meeting with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak earlier this week.
The hostility appears to be mutual: Netanyahu's bureau complained to the White House this week about continued anti-Israel incitement by the PA. This is the first time Israel has ever publicized a complaint about anti-Israel incitement, after years of either ignoring the issue altogether or keeping its protests quiet.
Israeli officials asked the White House to demand that Abbas stop glorifying terrorists who murdered Israelis.
"We won't let this matter drop from the agenda," said one official. "We expect the Palestinian Authority to live with us in peace and educate for peace." The complaint related to three specific incidents. The first was a ceremony in Ramallah at which Abbas dedicated a square named after Dalal Mughrabi, who murdered 37 Israelis in a 1978 attack that became known as the Coastal Road Massacre.
The second was the PA's response to last month's murder of Rabbi Meir Avshalom Hai by members of the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, which is affiliated with Abbas' Fatah movement. Not only did the PA not condemn the murder, but after the suspects were killed in a shootout with Israeli forces, senior PA officials visited their houses and termed them "martyrs."
The third was an anti-Israel screed posted on the Fatah Web site.
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