Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Sharm Summit: No Porgress on Settlement Issue, but Talks kick off in confidential start

Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority chairman Mahmoud Abbas met in Sharm el-Sheikh Tuesday and discussed “core issues” of a possible solution to the decades-long conflict over the Land of Israel. The term "core issues" usually refers to Israeli concessions, including the status of Jerusalem and the holy sites within it, as well as final borders and the Arab demand that descendants of Arab residents who fled decades ago be allowed into Israel. Before the meeting, Netanyahu had insisted that recognition of Israel as a Jewish state and addressing security issues were the primary issues for Israel.

The talks were hosted by Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. United States Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and US Special Envoy for Middle East Peace George Mitchell also took an active part in the talks that reportedly got off to a "rocky start" in the morning.

The day began with separate bilateral meetings that Mubarak held with Netanyahu, Abbas and Clinton. Clinton then also held bilateral meetings with Abbas and Netanyahu separately.

This was followed by a 100 minute meeting attended by Netanyahu, Abbas, Clinton and Mitchell.

The second round of direct negotiations began in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt on Tuesday and will continue Wednesday when Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas will meet in Jerusalem.

According to officials who took part in the talks, the Israeli negotiation team suggested holding one of the meetings between Netanyahu and Abbas in Ramallah, as a goodwill gesture to the Palestinians. It remains unclear whether the Israeli security establishment will approve such a meeting or suggest it be held in Jericho instead.

According to the western officials, no progress was made during the Sharm summit on the settlement construction issue. The construction moratorium is set to expire on September 28, but the US is pressing Israel to extend it.

The talks focused on finding a solution that maintain the stability of Netanyahu's government without causing the Palestinians to quit the talks.

Despite the difficulties, Israel is considering a number of gestures to the Palestinians, including the release of prisoners, transferring certain areas in the West Bank to full Palestinian control and continuing the construction freeze in areas outside the main settlement blocs.

The sources said the Israeli negotiators mentioned the possibility of extending the moratorium.

During the talks in Sharm, the American delegation, headed by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, reprimanded the Israelis and Palestinians, and called on both sides to project optimism and not create a negative atmosphere.

US envoy George Mitchell told reporters in Egypt, "President Abbas and Prime Minister Netanyahu continue to agree that these negotiations, whose goal is to resolve all core issues, can be completed in one year.

According to Mitchell, the drafting of a framework agreement for a “permanent status” solution is now “well under way.” The parties agree, however, that negotiations must be kept strictly confidential.