The U.S. envoy to the Middle East, George Mitchell, was expected to arrive in Israel on Wednesday in order to continue efforts to restart peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians. Jerusalem sources believe that the resumption of talks will be announced soon, possibly immediately following Mitchell's visit.
Jerusalem officials stressed that "U.S. assistance in curbing the effects of the Goldstone report will produce significant pressure on Israel by the Obama administration to move forward with the diplomatic process."
Israel has asked the world to help curtail the negative effects generated by a damning report compiled by a UN fact-finding mission, headed by Richard Goldstone, on Israel's offensive in Gaza last winter. The report, which Israel has called biased and unfair, accuses both Israel and Hamas of war crimes.
Last week, on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, Mitchell held separate talks with Israeli and Palestinian delegations. The Israeli team included Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's envoy Yitzhak Molcho and Defense Ministry Chief of Staff Mike Herzog. The Palestinian team included top negotiator Saeb Erekat and several of his advisors.
The meetings centered around the Palestinian demands to set a two-year timeframe for peace talks and to define the basis of the talks as the return to the 1967 borders, as well as other demands.
A senior official in Jerusalem who was briefed on the content of the meetings said that progress was made and that the gaps between the sides on the opening conditions and time table of the talks were significantly narrowed. "The final disagreements are can be resolved and we are extremely close to an announcement of resumption of talks," the official said.
Officials believe that the U.S. administration will now pressure Israel to provide compensation for America's help in curbing the effects of the Goldstone report. The top echelon of the U.S. administration, including Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, have applied heavy pressure on the Palestinian side to refrain from adopting the findings of the report. It was apparently American pressure that led to the Palestinian Authority's decision not to pursue a discussion of the report at the International Criminal Court.
Israel's argument against the Goldstone report was that an international discussion of what the report terms Israeli war crimes would deal a "death blow" to attempts to achieve peace around the world.
"After they [the U.S.] saved us from Goldstone, and our argument relied on the desire to advance peace, the Americans will want to see an Israeli move toward peace talks with the Palestinians," the senior official said.
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