Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Mitchell, Netanyahu Report 'Good Progress' in Mideast Talks

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Mitchell, Netanyahu Report 'Good Progress' in Mideast Talks

Article excerpt

President Obama's Mideast peace envoy George Mitchell plans to meet next week in Washington with a delegation of Israeli officials as part of a process that both the US and Israel say is moving closer to the goal of restarting direct peace talks between Israelis and Palestinians.

After four hours of talks in London Wednesday, former Senator Mitchell and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a joint statement that the delegation would meet with Mitchell to continue the conversation. Although the two sides said they had "made good progress" in their talks, they offered no elaboration of what that progress was.

But Mitchell, who has made five trips to the region and other visits to European and other capitals since his appointment in January, has made clear that securing a freeze on Israeli settlements in Palestinian territories will be key to restarting the stalled peace talks.

As part of a triangular effort to bring Israelis and Palestinians back to the table, Mitchell has also pressed Arab states to commit to measures normalizing relations with Israel and to more vigorous financial support of Palestinians.

The painstaking US-Israel talks revolve around defining just what a settlement "freeze" would be. The US needs enough of a freeze to woo back Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who says he will only return to talks once a complete freeze is agreed.

Prime Minister Netanyahu - who points out that no new permits for settlement construction have been granted under his tenure - must contend not just with the 300,000 Israelis who live in the West Bank, but with a broader constituency wary of giving up too much and more focused on Iranian hostility.

Resolving the settlement stickler in the peace talks equation will likely hinge on two factors: disposition of already issued settlement permits, and the duration of any agreed freeze, says Arthur Hughes, a Middle East Institute scholar and former US diplomat in the region. …

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