U.S. special envoy to the Middle East George Mitchell arrived last night in Israel for the third round of talks in Jerusalem and Ramallah since his appointment, and the first during the tenure of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Mitchell is expected to ask the prime minister during their meeting today to clarify Israel's position regarding the resumption of negotiations with the Palestinians and Syria.
A decision has been made in Washington to follow a regional peace plan that will be based on the Arab peace initiative, bolstered by international security guarantees for Israel. Under this plan, Arab states will proceed with normalization of their ties to Israel in parallel with progress in the negotiations to be held on the Palestinian and Syrian tracks.
The U.S. administration will seek to convince Israel that progress in the diplomatic process in line with the spirit of the Arab initiative will contribute to efforts to contain Iran's nuclear ambitions.
A senior administration official told Haaretz several days ago that the U.S. is committed to the rules of the Quartet, which sets the acceptance of a two-state solution as a precondition for talks with a Palestinian unity government that includes Hamas. The official added that the U.S. expects the Israeli government to adopt the same principle, in line with the commitments made by the previous Israeli government at the Annapolis conference in November 2007.
Palestinian sources said yesterday that they intend to present clear demands to Israel through the U.S. envoy as preconditions for resuming final status talks with Israel.
In an interview with the daily Al-Ayyam published by the Palestinian Authority, the sources were quoted as saying that PA President Mahmoud Abbas will ask Mitchell to press Israel to recognize the principle of two states for two nations. Moreover, the Palestinians would like Israel to agree to talk about all aspects of a final settlement that will ultimately result in the establishment of a Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital.
According to the report, the Palestinians will also insist on an end to the razing of homes in East Jerusalem and to settlement activity. The Palestinians are also hoping to discuss with Mitchell plans for a visit to the White House by Abbas, which will most likely take place at the end of the month or early next month.
Meanwhile, Mitchell held his first meeting in Israel last night with Defense Minster Ehud Barak,whom he met at his home in Tel Aviv. "It is possible and necessary to reach agreement and understanding between the U.S. and Israel on all the matters at hand," Barak was quoted as saying.
The defense minister briefed Mitchell on all the steps taken by Israel in the West Bank as part of efforts at closer security coordination with the Palestinian Authority, which in part aims at easing the daily lives of ordinary Palestinians.
Barak is scheduled to meet today with Russia's deputy foreign minister Alexei Borodavkin, who is also visiting Israel. The defense minister will ask the Russian official not to sell Iran advanced anti-aircraft missiles, especially the S-300 system. Israel has sought to prevent the supply of advanced air defense systems to Iran for years, and news reports have Moscow promising to sell Iran such missiles. However, to date no delivery has been confirmed.
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