Obama envoy: Peace process will bring Arab-Israeli normalization
Mitchell says immediate normalization of ties will not come before peace process, but as a result.
President Barack Obama's Mideast envoy said Monday that Washington is not asking any Arab country to immediately achieve full normalization with Israel, but that this will come during the peace process.
George Mitchell said after talks with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak that this normalization will come further down the road in the process.
Mitchell said he plans to meet many Arab leaders to encourage them to take genuine steps toward normalization of ties with Israel. He also asked Palestinians to refrain from words or actions that might make meaningful and productive negotiations impossible.
Arab League chief Amr Moussa said after meeting with Mitchell the Arabs will not take any step of normalization as a sacrifice for Israel.
"There will be no Arab steps before Israel stops its policy of settlement building," he said.
Mitchell arrived in Israel on Sunday and met with Defense Minister Ehud Barak as part of an ongoing effort to reach an agreement on construction in the settlements. The two are reportedly close to a deal in which Washington would allow a limited number of projects in advanced stages of construction to be completed, but Israel would freeze all other building for an as-yet undetermined period of time.
At a brief press conference after their meeting, Mitchell insisted that the dispute over settlement construction was a "discussion among friends," not a quarrel. Barak vowed that Israel would do everything in its power to advance a regional peace agreement, but without sacrificing its "vital interests."
Sources well-versed in the talks told Haaretz that no agreement will be signed during this visit, but the gaps have narrowed significantly. They said that Israel, which initially opposed Washington's demands, has softened its stance considerably, while the Americans are also making efforts to bridge the gaps.
Mitchell also met with President Shimon Peres at the President's Residence on Monday. The envoy praised the Israeli government for enacting a series of measures that ease Palestinians' freedom of movement in the West Bank.
Prior to their meeting, Mitchell and Peres offered statements to the press. Peres said Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's declaration of support for a two-state solution puts Israel "on a positive path" to peace.
Mitchell told Peres that the Arab world, particularly Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, and Egypt would like to advance the diplomatic process with Israel in a bid to forge a regional peace.
Mitchell said Palestinians had to expand and improve their security forces, and "refrain from any words or deeds that may make it more difficult to move quickly toward successful negotiations."
Israel, he said, had to improve Palestinian freedom of movement and economic growth, and deal with "difficult issues like settlement and (unauthorized) outposts."
And Arab states, he added, had to take "meaningful" steps toward normalizing relations with the Jewish state.
He said that both Israel and the Palestinians had "taken meaningful action" and "made significant strides" toward carrying out the steps required of them.