JERUSALEM, (AFP) – Washington’s Middle East envoy George Mitchell was to arrive in the region on Monday for talks with both sides as the Obama administration attempted to keep alive the battered peace process.
The visit, Mitchell’s first in nearly three months, comes after the United States admitted it had failed to secure a new Israeli settlement freeze that would have allowed the continuation of direct peace talks.
Mitchell was to meet Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday evening, then on Tuesday head to the West Bank city of Ramallah for talks with Palestinian leader Mahmud Abbas.
On Wednesday, Abbas is due in Cairo to discuss the situation with diplomats from the Arab League.
Following the collapse of the negotiations, the US envoy was expected to ask both sides to outline their ideas for an eventual peace deal.
“The US is today going to ask both sides to hear their positions,” opposition leader Tzipi Livni told Israel public radio from Washington, where she held talks with US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
“I have no doubts the Palestinians will be asked to put their positions on the table. Then we will see any difference between what they say in public and what they say in private,” she said.
However, the Israeli daily Haaretz said most of the pressure would be on Israel.
“The brunt of the work will be in Israel because the Palestinians have already submitted their opening positions on all the core issues – borders, security, Jerusalem, refugees, water and the settlements,” the paper said.
In a speech on Friday, Clinton pledged that despite the crisis, Washington would remain engaged, and she encouraged the two sides to address core issues through indirect talks.
Clinton’s speech came after weeks of fruitless efforts to convince Israel to impose a second freeze on West Bank settlement activity.
A previous 10-month freeze expired at the end of September, just weeks after Israel and the Palestinians embarked on direct peace talks.
Since then, the two sides have not met up, with Abbas refusing to talk while Israel continues to build on land the Palestinians want for a future state.