Tags: Obama | Mideast | peace.process

After Year of Failed Attempts, Obama Tries to Kick Start Mideast Peace Process

Thursday, 07 January 2010 09:42 PM

The United States on Thursday announced a flurry of high-level talks aimed at restarting Palestinian-Israeli peace talks, which a top US envoy says should yield a settlement within two years.

Accompanied by Middle East envoy George Mitchell, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will meet in Washington on Friday with her Jordanian and Egyptian counterparts, State Department spokesman PJ Crowley told reporters.

Mitchell will then leave late Sunday for Paris and Brussels for consultations with non-Arab allies, including the other three members of the quartet, the European Union, the United Nations and Russia, Crowley added.

The meeting of the quartet -- which launched a roadmap for peace in 2003 that calls for the creation of a Palestinian state living alongside a secure Israel -- will take place in Brussels, he said.

Days after entering the White House in January last year, President Barack Obama signaled that Arab-Israeli diplomacy was a top priority but Crowley acknowledged that efforts hit a "rough patch" late last year.

"We have our ideas, we are willing to share ideas," Crowley said.

"Clearly the first step in this process is to get the two sides back to formal negotiations and also find a variety of ways to address the very concrete issues" involving two neighboring parties long in conflict, he said.

Crowley said Clinton will meet Friday with Foreign Ministers Nasser Judeh of Jordan and Ahmed Abul Gheit of Egypt, the only two Arab countries to have made peace with Israel.

Egypt's intelligence chief Omar Suleiman will join Abul Gheit in the later meeting.

In an interview with US television interviewer Charlie Rose aired late Wednesday, Mitchell said: "We think that the negotiation should last no more than two years, once begun we think it can be done within that period of time.

"We hope the parties agree. Personally I think it can be done in a shorter period of time," he said, according to a transcript of the interview sent to AFP by Rose's staff.

The US consultations coincide with increased diplomatic activity in the Middle East, including talks involving Israel's right-wing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

On Monday, Israel's Maariv newspaper said Washington was pushing a plan to restart peace talks that foresees reaching a final deal in two years and agreeing on permanent borders in nine months.

Under the plan, the Israelis and Palestinians will immediately start final status talks that were suspended during the Gaza war a year ago, Israel's Maariv newspaper reported, citing unnamed sources.

Asked if the two sides were any closer to resuming negotiations, Crowley said: "I think there is still work to be done." He added: "It's hard to say."

After meeting in recent days with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, the US-backed Palestinian Authority president Mahmud Abbas said that he was open to negotiations with Israel, but talks could only resume when Jewish settlement activity ends.

Under the US plan, the two sides will first discuss the issue of permanent borders, with a deadline of nine months for reaching an agreement, Maariv said.

The idea is to have an agreement on borders before the expiry of an Israeli moratorium on new settlement construction in the occupied West Bank, so Israel will start to build again only in those settlements that will be inside its borders under the final status agreement, it said.

Underlying the discussions will be the principle of a land swap that has figured prominently in past peace negotiations -- Israel will keep its major settlement blocks in the occupied West Bank and the Palestinians will get land inside Israel in return.

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Thursday, 07 January 2010 09:42 PM
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