President Barack Obama’s special envoy to the Middle East landed in Tel Aviv last night for another round of talks with Israeli and Palestinian leaders – part of an intense US effort to revive peace talks between the sides still this fall. Senator George Mitchell was due to start his latest round – the first since last month’s three-way summit in New York – by meeting Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak .On Friday, he is expected to meet Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem, before travelling to the nearby West Bank city of Ramallah for talks with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.
The September 22 summit in New York, hosted by Obama, was the first meeting between Netanyahu and Abbas since the former took office in March.
It was held despite a failure by the parties to reach an agreement on a freeze of Israeli construction in West Bank settlements. Mitchell had attempted in vain to seal a last-minute deal on the issue in a previous round of shuttle diplomacy between Jerusalem and Ramallah just before the summit. In its absence, Obama had been unable to announce a long hoped for revival of peace negotiations.
He went ahead with the summit nonetheless, to convey his ‘impatience’ and sense of ‘urgency’ to the parties in person and nudge them toward a speedy compromise on the terms for reviving the peace talks.
Abbas has since faced flack for attending the summit without his pre-condition of a total settlement freeze being met.
Mitchell’s latest visit to the region – prepared for in follow-up meetings in Washington with representatives of Netanyahu and Abbas – is part of intense contacts begun after the New York summit to finalize – possibly by the end of this month – a deal on the terms for reviving peace talks.
Obama has said he wants Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to report back to him on the results of the intense preparatory talks by next week.
Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations were broken off late last year, after former premier Ehud Olmert of the centrist Kadima faction resigned to fight corruption allegations, which forced Israel into early elections on February 10 and saw the hardline Likud party return to power under Netanyahu.