U.S. to Advance Indirect Israeli-Palestinian Talks Following Mideast Peace Stalemate

Direct talks failed in late September after Netanyahu refused to discuss core final-status issues, particularly borders of future Palestinian state.

In her speech to the Saban Forum in Washington on Friday United States Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will outline how exchanges with Israel over extending the settlement freeze failed. Clinton is expected to explain the way forward for the Obama administration in its efforts to advance the peace process in the Middle East.

Hillary Clinton

Clinton met Thursday with Isaac Molho, the envoy and close adviser of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and informed him of the main points of her speech.

Saeb Erekat, the head of the Palestinian negotiating team, will meet with Clinton in Washington on Saturday prior to her address.

The secretary of state is meeting with Erekat and Molho to discuss the new round of talks the Obama administration would like to push for following the collapse of direct talks over the settlement freeze issue. In view of the refusal of the Palestinian Authority to resume direct talks, the U.S. administration is expected to seek the format of indirect talks, also known formally as proximity talks.

Proximity talks were conducted by George Mitchell, Obama's special envoy, traveling between Jerusalem and Ramallah for separate talks with the two sides. The talks failed four months ago as a result of Netanyahu's refusal to discuss the core issues for a permanent settlement, and particularly the issue of the borders of a future Palestinian state.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas put forth, during the proximity talks, very detailed positions on all issues.

The U.S. administration is hoping that when the proximity talks resume, Netanyahu will agree to present substantive and serious positions and will not drag his feet as he has to date.

According to a senior U.S. official, the administration is interested in discussing all the core issues in a future round of proximity talks on the final-status settlement, including borders, security, Jerusalem, refugees, settlements and water.

Mitchell is due to visit Israel and the Palestinian Authority on Monday. His failed efforts have nearly reached the 700-day mark, and recently he completely disappeared from the scene. Washington observers say he is close to resigning. However, for the time being, the U.S. envoy will continue holding talks with Netanyahu and Abbas.

Defense Minister Ehud Barak, Minister Dan Meridor and opposition chief Tzipi Livni will also participate in the Saban Forum in Washington. The Palestinian Authority will be represented by Prime Minister Salam Fayyad.

Meanwhile, Netanyahu met yesterday in Jerusalem with Quartet representative Tony Blair. The two agreed that efforts should be made to prevent the complete collapse of the peace process. Blair proposed that Israel take a series of steps to encourage Abbas and the Palestinian Authority to resume the talks.