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Terrorism & Security

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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To bring Palestinian leaders back to the negotiating table, the US reportedly told them in private that Israel would face consequences for provocative new settlement expansion, The Christian Science Monitor reported. "The Palestinians were pressured into talks," Mohammed Dajan, a political science professor at Al Quds University in Jerusalem, told the Monitor earlier this month. "If this process succeeds, the Obama administration will have to pressure both sides – also the Arab states – because there is a price to be paid by everyone."

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Since Mitchell began shuttling between the two sides on May 9, each has accused the other of damaging the prospects for progress. In Ramallah, Abbas told Mitchell that Israeli provocations were threatening to dismantle the talks, the Jerusalem Post reports. "We hope that the Americans will obligate the Israelis to stop the provocations, which include invasions, arrests, settlement construction, and the creation of new facts on the ground,” Saeb Erekat, the chief Palestinian negotiator, said after the meeting, according to the Post.

Israel is convinced that the Palestinians are trying to prevent progress, too. Haaretz today cites a "classified document" written by Israel's foreign ministry, which says the PLO is stoking diplomatic pressure on Israel to extend the settlement expansion freeze beyond a September deadline. "The Palestinians are embarking on talks with no faith in their outcome, virtually with the expectation that they will fail," the report says, according to Haaretz.

But PLO head Abbas is against a wall here. He was only able to gain approval for "proximity talks" from the PLO's executive committee and the Fatah central committee after he ensured he would argue for a permanent Israeli settlement freeze, according to an essay on the Israeli-Palestinian web forum Bitterlemons.org by co-editor Ghassan Khatib. Mr. Khatib writes:

"The make-or-break issue is, as it has always been, Israel's settlement behavior. The international community, led by the US, has to do whatever it takes to ensure that Israel does freeze the expansion of settlements. If it fails, the Palestinian leadership will find it hard to continue with indirect negotiations. And if the leadership continues against the will of the majority, this will further weaken its public position. This, in turn, will only play into the hands of the Islamic opposition led by Hamas."

IN PICTURES: The Israeli separation barrier: A West Bank wall and Israeli settlements

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