August 17, 2009 - 12:00am

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's envoy to negotiations with the Obama administration will depart on Sunday for meetings with U.S. officials in an attempt to negotiate a possible future settlement freeze, local daily Ha'aretz reported on its website.

Yitzhak Molcho, the envoy, is expected to meet with White House officials and with the staff of U.S. Middle East envoy George Mitchell, preparing the ground for a meeting between Netanyahu and Mitchell that is due to take place on Aug. 26 in London, according to the report.

Molcho's trip will focus on efforts to bridge the gaps in the Israeli and U.S. stances in regard to future settlement construction, it said.

Israel is reportedly willing to agree to a six-month settlement freeze, but the Americans are interested in a halt to all settlement construction for at least one year.

In addition, the U.S. administration takes interest in using any settlement freeze reached with Israel to encourage moderate Arab nations to normalize their ties with the Jewish state.

Washington, which has vowed to help revive the long-stalled Israeli-Palestinian and Israeli-Arab peace processes as soon as possible and has been urging Israel to freeze all construction in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, would then announce these mutual gestures in a bid to restart the peace processes, said Ha'aretz.

Netanyahu's office said it hoped that the August 26 meeting in London would further understanding between Israel and the United States, adding that then the settlement issue, which has generate tensions between the two countries, could be removed from the negotiating table between them, leading to the end of recent tensions.

However, Israeli officials believe that an additional meeting between Mitchell and Netanyahu would be needed, said Ha'aretz, adding that in any event, Netanyahu would like to strike a final deal as part of a scheduled meeting with U.S. President Barack Obama, which is due to take place during the UN General Assembly at the end of September.


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