US Envoys Meet with Israelis, Palestinians

Posted June 15th, 2011 at 6:05 pm (UTC-5)
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Senior U.S. diplomats are in the Middle East trying to restart Israeli-Palestinian peace talks that collapsed last year.

Dennis Ross and David Hale met Wednesday with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. They also traveled to Ramallah, in the occupied West Bank, where they spoke with Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad.

Hale is scheduled to meet Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas Thursday in Amman. He will also speak with Jordanian and Egyptian officials later this week.

This is the first time the pair has visited the region since U.S. Middle East envoy George Mitchell resigned last month after failing to renew negotiations between the two sides.

An Israeli official said the envoys are working to find a formula that would entice the Palestinians to drop their bid for unilateral recognition of a Palestinian state at the United Nations in September.

The Palestinians, who hope to establish a state in the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip, adopted that strategy in frustration over the impasse with the Israelis. The U.S. and Israel say such a move will only inflame tensions.

The two officials are promoting U.S. President Barack Obama's initiative to base renewed negotiations on the pre-1967 border with agreed land swaps. Israel has rejected the use of the pre-1967 border as the basis for talks, stating that the frontiers of a two state solution should not be predetermined before negotiations begin.

Peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians stalled last September, partly due to Palestinian objections to Israeli settlement construction on land they want as part of a future state.

Israeli government officials announced plans last month to build about 1,600 new housing units in East Jerusalem, on land that Israel annexed after the 1967 war.

At the Israeli parliament Wednesday, Mr. Netanyahu reiterated his key demands for the resumption of talks. He said the Palestinians must recognize Israel as a Jewish state, accept a demilitarized Palestinian state with an Israeli security presence along its border with Jordan and drop their demand for a return of Palestinian refugees to Israel. He also said all of Jerusalem must remain in Israeli hands.

All are conditions previously rejected by the Palestinians.

Last week, French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe said Paris would move ahead with efforts to organize a Mideast peace conference in coming weeks despite reservations expressed by the U.S. and Israel.

Juppe told reporters at the United Nations headquarters in New York that France is still working on the initiative and expects “positive developments” in the next few weeks.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton gave a cool response to the French plan, saying any new gathering must be linked to a willingness by the parties to resume talks.

Juppe said the conference could be critical to forestalling a crisis at the U.N. if Mr. Abbas moves ahead with his plan to seek recognition of a Palestinian state.