Sources: Clinton to Visit Israel in Three Weeks


hillaryThe new U.S. administration will begin engaging its Israeli counterpart in the next few weeks. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is due to arrive in Israel on March 3. National Security Adviser General James Jones will arrive in Israel on February 24. Meanwhile the European Union has decided to freeze a planned upgrade in its relationship with Israel until a new government is established and resumes the peace process with the Palestinians. The EU is also demanding that the new government freezes settlement construction.

Clinton is expected to be in Cairo on March 2 to attend an international conference on rehabilitating the Gaza Strip convened by Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. Both an Israeli government source and Western diplomats said Thursday that Clinton is likely to use the occasion to visit Israel and the Palestinian Authority. This would be her first visit here since entering her new job.

The sources noted that no formal announcement of the visit has yet been received from Washington, but the idea has been discussed informally with Israel’s embassy in Washington.

Clinton’s advisors are still not certain that a trip to Israel in early March would be worthwhile, as Israel may still be in the midst of coalition negotiations to form a new government. However, proponents of the idea argue that this would be a chance for Washington to clarify its expectations of whatever new government is ultimately formed, and thereby perhaps even influence the composition of the coalition.

George Mitchell, the new U.S. envoy to the Middle East, is already slated to arrive in the last week of February. This coming Sunday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov is due to visit Israel.

The EU, meanwhile, made its decision to freeze the upgrade in relations out of fear that Likud chairman Benjamin Netanyahu would set up a rightist government that would freeze talks with the PA. The upgrade, which was approved a few months ago, carries significant economic benefits, such as removing trade barriers and encouraging foreign investment. It is therefore potentially a compelling pressure tactic.

The Czech Republic, which currently holds the EU’s rotating presidency, has even unofficially decided to cancel a summit between Israel’s prime minister and EU leaders that was slated to take place in June. “We want to see how the new Israeli government acts with regard to the peace process with the Palestinians,” a European diplomat explained. “If the diplomatic negotiations resume, it will be possible to continue upgrading the relationship.”

On Wednesday, the ambassadors of the EU, the Czech Republic and Sweden submitted formal complaints to the Foreign Ministry about two settlement-related issues: a plan to evacuate the Migron outpost by relocating its residents to a new neighborhood of another West Bank settlement, Adam, and construction in the E1 corridor between Ma’aleh Adumim and Yerushalayim.

“Construction in the settlements violates international law, and we demand that Israel honors the commitment to stop settlement construction that it undertook at the Annapolis conference,” said Czech ambassador Michael Zantovsky.

{Yair Israel/Haaretz}