US Envoy Mitchell meets Abbas, Netanyahu on Israeli-Palestinian talks
US Middle East Envoy George Mitchell visited Jerusalem and Ramallah this week to begin indirect Israeli-Palestinian talks. Benjamin Netanyahu is reportedly willing to release hundreds of Palestinian prisoners, but Mahmoud Abbas wants a permanent Israeli settlement freeze.
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A fresh round of mediation by US Middle East Envoy George Mitchell between the Israelis and Palestinians began this week. Mr. Mitchell met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Thursday in Jerusalem, after having met with Palestinian National Authority President Mahmoud Abbas on Wednesday in Ramallah.
The Palestinians and Israelis are unwilling to talk directly with each other. Instead, Mitchell's role is to shuttle between the two sides as a mediator in what are being called "proximity talks." The Palestinian Liberation Organization's agreement to the mediation has been seen as a small victory for US President Barack Obama, as he tries to restart peace talks have been on hold for 17-months, since the right-wing Netanyahu government came to power.
In Ramallah, Mitchell's discussions focused on the borders of a future Palestinian state, Voice of America reports. Mitchell plans to shuttle between Ramallah and Jerusalem for as long as four months, VOA adds. In Ramallah, he was reportedly given letters of protest over the killing of an elderly farmer in Gaza by the Israeli military and of a Palestinian teenager in the West Bank, allegedly by an Israeli settler, Agence France-Press reports.
Details of Mitchell's discussions have not been formally released, as he typically keeps a low profile on visits, but Israeli newspaper Haaretz reports that Netanyahu will offer a package of goodwill gestures to encourage direct talks. According to Haaretz:
Israel also pledged to undertake a series of confidence-building measures toward the PA. A diplomatic source in Jerusalem said the gestures will most likely include the release of hundreds of Palestinian prisoners, the removal of additional checkpoints in the West Bank, a de-escalation of Israeli military activity in Palestinian towns, and the transfer of security control over areas of the West Bank to the PA.
The Palestinians had agreed to Mitchell's mediation role two months ago, but refused to move forward in March when Israel announced plans to build 1,600 new settlers homes in East Jerusalem. Palestinians claim that area as the capital of a future state.