JERUSALEM (AFP) – US envoy George Mitchell was to press the two-state solution Thursday in meetings with senior officials in Israel, where hawkish new Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu opposes a Palestinian state.
Mitchell flew into Israel late Wednesday in his first trip to the region since Netanyahu assumed his post at the head of a largely right-wing cabinet that has sparked concern over the fate of troubled peace talks.
Speaking in Morocco on Tuesday, Mitchell once again said that Washington considered the creation of a Palestinian state as the only way to solve the decades-long Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
“In the case of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, we believe that the two-state solution, two states living side by side in peace, is the best and the only way to resolve this conflict,” said Mitchell.
It marked the latest comments that seem to have set Israel on a likely collision course with its most important ally, as Washington insists on the principle of a Palestinian state and Netanyahu refuses to endorse the plan.
Netanyahu, who heads a largely right-leaning government, says that the economy in the occupied West Bank must be improved before any other steps in the staggering Middle East peace process.
Israel has committed itself to the principle of a Palestinian state under the 2003 international “roadmap” for peace plan, which included a series of state for Israelis and Palestinians to follow that eventually would result in negotiations over core issues and the creation of the state of Palestine.
The plan has made little progress since its launch by the Middle East Quartet — the European Union, Russia, the United Nations and the United States.
Mitchell was to meet on Thursday with firebrand Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, who sparked concern with his declarations that Israel was not bound by a US-backed 2003 agreement with the Palestinians reached in Annapolis, Maryland.
Under the deal, the two sides agreed to jump to the final phase of the roadmap and resume negotiations on final status issues while implementing the other stages of the plan.
Mitchell was also to meet with President Shimon Peres and opposition leader Tzipi Livni during the day and to have dinner with Netanyahu later on Thursday.
He was to travel to Ramallah in the occupied West Bank on Friday for meetings with Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas, who has insisted that the new Israeli cabinet commit itself to a two-state solution before the two sides can resume any talks.