CAIRO, (AFP) — US envoy George Mitchell said Wednesday he will pursue “substantive” talks with Israelis and Palestinians to rescue battered Mideast peace negotiations, following a meeting with the Egyptian president.
“In the days ahead our discussions with both sides will be substantive, two way conversations with an eye towards making real progress in the next few months on the key questions of an eventual framework agreement,” Mitchell told reporters in Cairo after his talks with President Hosni Mubarak.
Israelis and Palestinians had agreed in September, he said, “to pursue a framework agreement that would establish the fundamental compromises on all permanent status issues… (to) pave the way for a final peace treaty.”
“That remains our goal,” Mitchell said.
The Middle East envoy returned to the region on Monday after Washington acknowledged it had failed to secure a new Israeli settlement freeze, effectively signalling the end of direct peace talks and a return to the “proximity” talks that began in May and were overseen by Mitchell.
He met separately with Israeli and Palestinian leaders before heading to Cairo for talks with Mubarak and Arab League chief Amr Mussa.
Palestinian leader Mahmud Abbas was also in Cairo on Wednesday to seek Arab advice on next steps following Washington’s failure to persuade Israel to halt settlement building in the occupied West Bank and annexed east Jerusalem.
Abbas — who conditions a return to talks to a settlement freeze — also met Mubarak and in the evening was due to brief a ministerial Arab follow-up committee on “ideas” submitted by Washington to salvage the peace process.
“Mitchell brought some US ideas,” Abbas spokesman Nabil Abu Rudeina said on Tuesday after inconclusive talks in the West Bank city of Ramallah between Mitchell and Abbas.
“We will wait for the Arab Committee to discuss (them) and to decide,” said Abu Rudeina, referring to Wednesday evening’s meeting of the follow-up committee.
“We will continue discussions with the Arabs to decide the coming steps.”
Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erakat travelled to Washington last week to deliver a letter from Abbas to US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton listing conditions for a return to talks with Israel.
A senior Palestinian official told AFP on Tuesday that the letter calls for “US guarantees and answers before returning to any negotiations, direct or indirect.”
“We are now awaiting the answer to that letter,” he said.
The Palestinians demand US guarantees ensuring “a complete halt to settlement in the West Bank and east Jerusalem.”
They also call for US recognition of a Palestinian state based on Israel’s borders of before the 1967 Six-Day War in which the Jewish state seized the West Bank, the Gaza Strip and east Jerusalem.
If Washington refuses, the letter asks that it not take steps to block the Palestinians from seeking such recognition from the UN Security Council.
“Anyone who talks about comprehensive peace must stop settlement building and Israeli activities,” Erakat said on Tuesday.
Mitchell acknowledged that the road to peace was strewn with “many difficulties obstacle and setbacks” but said he would push for peace.
“We are determined to persevere in our efforts until we reach the conclusion that all want: an independent, viable state of Palestine … living side by side in peace with Israel,” he said on Tuesday.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meanwhile called on the Palestinians to react positively to Mitchell’s ideas.
“I had a good meeting yesterday (Monday) with the American envoy… We spoke about concrete ways to push the peace process forward and reach a framework agreement for peace between us and the Palestinians,” Netanyahu said Tuesday.
“That is Israel’s goal and I hope the Palestinians will respond to it.”
Direct talks launched September 2 were suspended three weeks later with the end of an Israeli moratorium on settlement building, which the Jewish state has consistently refused to renew.