United States National Security Adviser James Jones is due in Israel on Tuesday for meetings on resuming the Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.
"We are getting closer to the resumption of negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority," senior Israeli and U.S. officials told Haaretz over the weekend.
Jones will be visiting Israel as a guest of his counterpart, Uzi Arad, and will also hold meetings with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Defense Minister Ehud Barak, Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi, Mossad chief Meir Dagan and opposition leader Tzipi Livni.
Among the subjects that will be discussed, in addition to the peace process, are the efforts to stop Iran's nuclear program and impose further sanctions against Tehran by the UN Security Council. Security cooperation between Israel and the United States, as well as the situation on the northern border with Syria and Lebanon, are other issues on the agenda.
Over the weekend, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and a team of senior U.S. officials held talks with visiting foreign ministers of Egypt and Jordan, as well as Egypt's Intelligence chief, Omar Suleiman. The talks revolved mostly over the resumption of negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians.
Later in the week, Special Envoy to the Middle East George Mitchell will travel first to Paris for talks and then attend a meeting of the Quartet in Brussels. The following week, Mitchell is expected in Israel.
Senior U.S. officials told Haaretz over the weekend that they are more optimistic about the possibility of resuming peace talks in the near future, especially because of a change in the attitude of Arab states. According to the same officials, Egypt, Jordan and other Arab countries are pressuring the Palestinians to agree to resume negotiations.
"We are still trying to formulate a way for resuming negotiations," they said. "There is a new approach on the part of the Arab states which is causing us to believe we are closer to renewing the process. Undoubtedly the atmosphere is changing and the Arabs tell us they want to begin the negotiations soon."
However the head of the PLO negotiating team, Saeb Erakat, said yesterday that the negotiations will not resume unless Israel completely ceases construction in settlements.
Erakat spoke in response to Clinton's call to resume talks without preconditions. The Palestinian official said the negotiations should resume from the point where they left off in December 2008.
So far, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has been steadfast in his refusal to succumb to American and Arab pressure to agree to restart negotiations with the government of Israel.
Palestinian media noted yesterday that in her statements Clinton had ignored the Palestinian demand for a full freeze in settlement construction. Palestinian criticism of the attitude of the Obama administration is therefore expected to intensify in the coming days.
Meanwhile, Syrian President Bashar Assad met yesterday with Hamas politburo chief Khaled Meshal in Damascus. According to the Syrian News Agency, Assad said he would like to see rivals Fatah and Hamas close ranks behind the Palestinian cause.
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