Israel Considers Goodwill Gestures as Second Round of Proximity Talks Ends

Netanyahu meets U.S. Mideast envoy George Mitchell following Mitchell-Abbas session on outline of future Palestinian state Wednesday.

Israel considered goodwill gestures toward the Palestinians Thursday, as U.S. President Barack Obama's Mideast envoy wound up a second round of indirect Mideast peace talks.

U.S. envoy George Mitchell and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu
Moshe Milner / GPO

U.S. Embassy spokesman Kurt Hoyer said envoy George Mitchell left after meeting Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu Thursday. Hoyer gave no details of their talks, and there were no outward signs of progress.

A statement from Netanyahu's office said they discussed the possibility of gestures toward the Palestinians. No details were given. In the past, Israel has taken down some West Bank roadblocks as a sign of goodwill.

The statement said Israel expects that during the talks, the Palestinians will refrain from political activity against Israel, citing as an example the unsuccessful campaign to prevent Israel's acceptance into the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, a prestigious world economic body.

Israel was voted into the OECD last week despite stiff Palestinian objections because of Israel's policies in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

The statement from Netanyahu's office said another part of the meeting was devoted to water issues, with experts from both sides taking part. The whole region is suffering from a long-term water shortage because of lack of rainfall. The statement said Israel believes regional cooperation is needed to confront the water issue.

Government sources said that Netanyahu was examining favorably a proposal to build a road linking the West Bank on land Israel had originally allocated for settlement, according to Reuters. There was no confirmation of that report.

Defense Minister Ehud Barak and Netanyahu's adviser, attorney Yitzhak Molho, also took part in the meeting.

Mitchell met Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on Wednesday. Palestinians complained about statements by some Israeli ministers about plans to continue construction in West Bank settlements and Jewish neighborhoods in east Jerusalem, which Palestinians claim as the capital of their future state.

The indirect talks are set to continue for four months. All sides say they hope the talks will lead to direct negotiations, but the Palestinians have refused to sit down with Netanyahu unless he orders a total freeze in settlement construction.

The sides have expressed support for dealing with core issues like borders, refugees, settlements and Jerusalem in the indirect talks, but there is no sign that these issues have come up or that progress has been made in the first two rounds. Mitchell inaugurated the indirect talks earlier this month.

No date was announced for the next round of talks, in which Mitchell shuttles between Netanyahu's office in Jerusalem and Abbas' headquarters in Ramallah, a trip of about 10 miles (15 kilometers).

Mitchell and Abbas on Wednesday discussed possible outlines of a future Palestinian state.

"We are focusing on final-status issues like borders and security,"  Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat told reporters after that meeting.

"We hope that in the next four months we can achieve the two-state solution on the 1967 borders," said Erekat, reiterating a Palestinian demand that Israel withdraws from Palestinian territory it captured in the 1967 Middle East war.

Mitchell will shuttle between Israel and the West Bank for the second substantive sessions since the Palestinians agreed to the indirect "proximity" talks, which have been given a maximum of four months to produce results.

Israeli leaders have said the Palestinians can raise core issues like the status of Jerusalem, final borders and the issue of Palestinian refugees in the indirect talks, but only direct negotiations can resolve them.

Israel captured East Jerusalem along with the West Bank and Gaza Strip in 1967, and considers all of Jerusalem its capital, a claim that is not recognized internationally.

Palestinians want East Jerusalem as the capital of the state they intend to establish in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

Direct peace talks were suspended in late 2008.