US warns Israel ahead of peace talks
MARK WEISS in Jerusalem
US ENVOY George Mitchell told Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu yesterday that the Obama administration expects Israel to refrain from taking moves that could endanger the direct peace talks with the Palestinians, scheduled to begin in Washington next week.
Mr Mitchell’s comments followed repeated warnings from Palestinian leaders that the negotiations could end in a matter of weeks if Israel decided to renew West Bank settlement construction after September 26th, the date when the 10-month moratorium imposed by the Israeli government expires.
Israel is keen to put security arrangements at the top of the agenda when face-to-face talks are relaunched on September 2nd, but the Palestinians are likely to press for commitments on a continuation of the settlement freeze before other issues are addressed.
US state department spokesman Philip Crowley said the issue of settlement building would be discussed.
Dan Meridor, a minister from Mr Netanyahu’s ruling Likud party, said construction should resume only in the large West Bank settlement blocs that are likely to remain under Israeli control in a final peace deal.
“There is no logic in building in territory intended for the Palestinian state,” he said. “By the same logic, there is no reason not to build in territories that will be inside Israel.” The previous Israeli government, headed by Ehud Olmert, operated a similar policy, but there is significant opposition in the Netanyahu cabinet to any restrictions on settlement building after the current freeze expires.
Quartet envoy Tony Blair yesterday urged both Israel and the Palestinians to bring serious proposals to the Washington talks. Addressing an academic gathering near Tel Aviv the envoy for the Quartet – the US, the EU, Russia and the UN – said a breakthrough was possible. “There will be no successful negotiations unless all the final status issues are on the table,” he said.
“Proposals on these issues will be a litmus test of seriousness.”