Barak Ravid
July 5, 2009 - 12:00am

The Barack Obama administration is continuing its efforts to draft a comprehensive agreement for freezing West Bank settlement construction and normalizing relations between Israel and the Arab states.

Meanwhile, Israeli officials told U.S. envoy George Mitchell in recent weeks that Jerusalem is willing to temporarily freeze settlement construction, but that the move would be conditioned on substantive steps from the Arab side, as well as guarantees from the United States.

Yesterday Obama sent a letter to King Mohammed VI of Morocco expressing his hope and expectation the Arab states will take steps to end Israel's "isolation" in the Middle East, and that he hopes "Morocco will be a leader in bridging gaps between Israel and the Arab world."

Israeli officials said yesterday they believe the United States is seeking to encourage Morocco and the Persian Gulf states to allow Israel to open diplomatic offices in their territory, and to send their own diplomatic delegations to Israel.

In his meeting with Mitchell, Barak encouraged the envoy to engage in "shuttle diplomacy" between Jerusalem and a number of Arab capitals to draft a regional peace plan. Another proposal that emerged in the talks was the convening of an international peace summit in the coming months on a "comprehensive regional agreement" that would lay out the steps ahead for both the Israeli and Arab sides.

Israeli officials said the thrust of the message delivered to Mitchell was "the length and breadth of the temporarily building freeze will be in proportion to the scope of the renewal of peace talks, and signals received from the Arab states."

Tomorrow Barak and Mitchell will meet again in London to discuss solutions to the settlement issue and steps to be taken by Arab states in return. Barak will be joined by Yitzhak Molcho, a diplomatic adviser to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

At the center of the meeting will be the fate of some 2,500 housing units currently being built in West Bank settlements. Israel is prepared to announce a temporary construction freeze of several months, but is seeking U.S. acquiescence to complete building projects that have already begun.

The talks are aimed at reaching an agreement on the majority of issues that remain points of conflict between Washington and Jerusalem, and to reach final understandings ahead of Netanyahu's meeting with Mitchell in Jerusalem in two weeks.


American Task Force on Palestine - 1634 Eye St. NW, Suite 725, Washington DC 20006 - Telephone: 202-262-0017