Tags: hillary | middle | east | trip

Sec. Clinton to Visit Israel, West Bank: Palestinians

Monday, 23 Feb 2009 09:19 AM

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JERUSALEM – US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will visit Israel and the occupied West Bank from March 3 on her first official trip to the region, a senior Palestinian official told AFP on Monday.

Clinton will visit after attending an international conference in Egypt to help rebuild Gaza after the Israel-Hamas war in December and January, said senior Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erakat.

It will be Clinton's first visit since she became President Barack Obama's secretary of state.

Obama's Middle East envoy, former US senator George Mitchell, is expected in the region this week and is due to hold talks with Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas in Ramallah on Friday, Erakat said.

Obama has vowed to vigorously pursue Middle East peace talks, although the future of peacemaking has been thrown into doubt since right-wing parties made major gains in Israel's February 10 election.

The next Israeli government, which hawk Benjamin Netanyahu has been charged with forming, will be the focus of Palestinian discussions with the American officials, Erakat said.

"Our discussions with Mitchell and Clinton will focus on the programme of the next Israeli government and at what point it intends to respect past (peace) accords and the solution based on two states and a halt to settlements," Erakat said.

"President Abbas will tell the American administration that if the Israeli government will not respect these points, it will not be considered a partner" in the peace process, Erakat told AFP by telephone from Prague, where he accompanied Abbas on a visit.

Abbas has asked the Czech Republic, "as current president of the European Union," to impose sanctions against the next Israeli government if it stays away from the peace process. He said the measures should be similar to those imposed against the Palestinian government when it was dominated by Hamas.

"The European government must say that such an Israel government cannot be a partner," he said.

Netanyahu has failed to persuade top rivals to join his cabinet, increasing the chances of a right-wing Israeli coalition which pundits say could torpedo the peace talks.

© 2009 Agence France Presse. All rights reserved.

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