The United States has rushed to the region its special envoy to West Asia George Mitchell in a bid to salvage direct talks between the Palestinians and Israelis, threatened by Tel Aviv’s decision not to extend a 10-month freeze on construction in the West Bank.
Mr. Mitchell arrived in the region on Tuesday, a day after Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas decided to withhold a decision on future talks after an Israeli moratorium on construction in the West Bank, occupied by Israel since 1967, expired on midnight Sunday.
Washington has a window of nearly a week to bring talks back on track.
Mr. Abbas is expected to finalise a Palestinian position on negotiations following an Arab League meeting in Cairo on October 4.
In the past, the Palestinians have, on several occasions, stated that they would walk out of a dialogue once Israel decided against extending the freeze on settlements in occupied land.
Mr. Mitchell is expected to meet on Wednesday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Mr. Abbas as well. According to the Israeli daily Haaretz, the U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has twice
spoken with Mr. Netanyahu on Monday.
The Americans are apparently offering Israel guarantees on three core issues — retention of Israel’s status as Jewish State, refugees and security. In turn, Israel is being asked to extend the moratorium on construction in the West Bank for several months.
In his briefing on Monday, the U.S. State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley clarified that there was no change in Washington’s position that Israel should extend the freeze on settlements.
The pressure on Mr. Netanyahu on a compromise is also mounting from other international quarters. The E.U. foreign policy chief, Catherine Ashton, said she “strongly regrets” Israel's failure to extend the moratorium on construction. “The position of the E.U. is very clear: Settlements are illegal under international law, constitute an obstacle to peace and threaten to make a two-state solution impossible,” Ms. Ashton's spokesperson, Maja Kocijancic, was quoted as saying. “We will carefully examine the consequences of this decision and consult with the parties and our Quartet and Arab partners,” she observed.
On Monday, the head of the West Asia Quartet, Tony Blair also met Mr. Netanyahu and Israeli
Defence Minister, Ehud Barak.
Meanwhile, influential Palestinian groups are urging Mr. Abbas to pull out of talks. “I call on my brothers at the Palestinian Authority, who had stated they would not pursue talks with the enemy if it continued settlement construction, to hold to their promise,” said Khaled Meshaal, the head of Hamas from his headquarters in Damascus.