American UN envoy to Israel: Relaunch Mideast talks now
Israel: Deal imminent with U.S. on Mideast talks; Palestinian official: There are no interim solutions.
The Obama administration's ambassador to the United Nations told Israelis on Wednesday that it is not enough just to pay lip service to peace and urged the government to immediately relaunch negotiations, without preconditions, aimed at creating an independent Palestinian state.
Ambassador Susan Rice, in an address at a high-powered conference hosted by Israeli President Shimon Peres, assured Israelis - many of whom are wary of U.S. President Barack Obama's Mideast agenda - that her government is committed to their security.
"As President Peres always reminds us, being serious about peace means taking risks for peace," Rice said. "Being serious about peace means understanding that tomorrow need not look like yesterday."
Peres shared the 1994 Nobel Peace Prize with Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat and slain Israeli leader Yitzhak Rabin for Mideast peace efforts
Israeli officials: Deal imminent with U.S. on Mideast talks
Meanwhile Wednesday, Israeli officials said that Obama's Middle East envoy, George Mitchell, is close to a deal with Israel on terms for resuming peace talks with the Palestinians.
"There appears to be a meeting of the minds and hopefully the Israeli-Palestinian dialogue will be able to re-start in the near future," an Israeli official said, summing up talks held by negotiators for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Washington.
Under the prospective deal, on which Palestinians have not yet commented, the negotiations could be held on the basis of two decades-old United Nations Security Council resolutions, 242 and 338, another official said.
Such a formula could be acceptable to Israel since it interprets those resolutions as falling short of a demand to withdraw from all of the West Bank, territory it captured during the 1967 Six Day War.
Palestinians, who seek a state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, hold that the resolutions, which call for "withdrawal of Israel armed forces from territories occupied in the recent conflict", obliges Israel to return to pre-1967 lines.
Palestinian negotiators were in Washington on Tuesday for talks with U.S. officials on how to relaunch negotiations.
Washington apparently hopes to persuade Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to return to peace talks based on the resolutions, enabling each side to cleave to its own interpretation and avoid conceding diplomatic ground on borders before negotiations resume.
However, Abbas has given no public sign he has dropped a main Palestinian condition for a resumption of negotiations - an Israeli settlement freeze in the West Bank in accordance with a 2003 U.S.-backed peace "road map".
A progress report U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is due to deliver within days to Obama on Mitchell's mediation efforts could clarify the situation.
Many Palestinians felt humiliated when Obama last month called for Israeli restraint on settlements rather than repeat his call for a freeze.
Netanyahu had refused to halt construction in settlements, arguing he needed to accommodate the needs of growing settler families.
Israeli officials have said Netanyahu offered Mitchell a freeze on settlement expansion outside of areas around Jerusalem that Israel has annexed that would last nine months. Washington has not commented publicly beyond repeating a desire for an end to settlement activity, as called for under a 2004 interim deal.
Palestinians fear that Israel's West Bank settlements, deemed illegal by the International Court of Justice, would block the formation of a viable and contiguous state.
In a speech on Tuesday, Netanyahu again urged Abbas to return to negotiations that Palestinians suspended after Israel launched a military offensive in December in the Gaza Strip, territory ruled by his Hamas Islamist rivals.
Under U.S. pressure, Netanyahu has agreed to negotiate the creation of a Palestinian state alongside Israel.
But he said such a state must be demilitarized and Palestinians have to recognize Israel as a Jewish state, a demand they fear could undermine claims to resettle or compensate Palestinian refugees of a 1948 war over Israel's founding.
Palestinian official: We're ready for talks with U.S., but not with Israel
Meanwhile, Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat arrived in Washington Tuesday, where he was expected to meet with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and other American officials to discuss the first phase of the road map and the renewal of final-status talks.
But in an interview with Palestinian Authority newspaper Al-Ayyam, Erekat - who was is also due to meet with U.S. National Security Adviser James Jones and George Mitchell, the American envoy to the Mideast - said the most important issue is freezing Israeli settlement construction.
"There are no interim solutions," he said. "It's not a precondition for negotiations, but an explicit Israeli commitment that they have to meet."
Erekat told the paper there is an American plan for Israeli-Palestinian peace, but said it is irrelevant as long as Israel continues building in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, adding that all peace talks are currently being held with the Americans, not the Israelis.
He said the second most important issue to be discussed during his visit is the Palestinian request that U.S. President Barack Obama state that the peace process must lead to the establishment of a Palestinian state along the 1967 borders, and that negotiations must include all the final-status issues.
Quartet Mideast envoy Tony Blair said during a visit to Hebron Tuesday that he expects Israeli-Palestinian negotiations on a final-status agreement to resume within a few weeks.