Thursday, March 4, 2010

Netanyahu Sees Progress Toward Peace as Indirect talks are set to kick off next week, Ahead of Biden’s Visit

(Bloomberg) -- Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu expressed hope that Vice President Joe Biden’s visit next week will help move peace efforts forward, saying indirect talks with the Palestinians may start at the same time.

Arab states yesterday backed a U.S. proposal for negotiations between the Palestinians and Israel conducted through a mediator, a decision that would allow Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to sidestep his vow to avoid talks while Israel builds settlements, analysts said.

Indirect talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority may begin as early as Sunday, Haaretz had learned. U.S. Middle East envoy George Mitchell will land in Israel on Saturday night, and the American administration is hoping the sides will declare the beginning of indirect talks the following morning, ahead of the arrival of U.S. Vice President Joe Biden on Monday.

“I am convinced that this important visit to our region will contribute to advancing the diplomatic process and there are indications to this effect,” Netanyahu told ministers at a Cabinet meeting today, according to an e-mailed statement from his office.

Biden is scheduled to travel to the Middle East next week, meeting leaders in Israel, the West Bank, Egypt and Jordan. U.S. envoy George Mitchell will also arrive during the visit to work out arrangements for the Israeli-Palestinian talks, Netanyahu said.

Peace negotiations with the Palestinians have been frozen since Israel’s military offensive in the Gaza Strip in late 2008. U.S.-led efforts to revive talks have foundered on the issue of settlement construction in the West Bank, with the Palestinians demanding a cessation of all building and Israel agreeing to a partial halt.

The foreign ministers of Arab nations yesterday agreed to give the indirect talks four months to succeed and will call an emergency United Nations Security Council meeting if they fail.

“I welcome the developments that, I hope, will lead to the start of talks upon Senator George Mitchell’s visit to Israel next week,” Netanyahu said. “We welcome the start of talks, even if they are proximity talks.”