Barak Ravid
September 29, 2009 - 12:00am

Israel and the U.S. will continue their talks in Washington on Wednesday on bridging the open issues between Israel and the Palestinian Authority that are delaying the relaunching of peace negotiations.

Formulating the framework for the negotiations and the "terms of reference," or the opening conditions, are the focus of the talks in Washington. At the same time the sides will continue negotiating the terms of the settlement construction freeze.

Israel will be represented by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's envoy, attorney Yitzhak Molcho, and Defense Minister Ehud Barak's chief of staff, Brig Gen. Michael Herzog. The two will fly to Washington Tuesday and meet Wednesday with U.S. Middle East envoy George Mitchell and senior White House officials.

Saeb Erekat, the head of the Palestinian negotiating team, will also be in Washington, though it is not clear whether he will join in the talks.

Next week Mitchell will come to Israel to continue the talks and meet with Netanyahu and Barak.

U.S. President Barack Obama instructed Mitchell and U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to report to him on progress in the talks by October 15, in an attempt to bridge the gaps between Israel and the Palestinian Authority by then and allow Obama to hold an event marking the launch of peace talks.

In light of massive U.S. pressure, the Palestinians have agreed to drop their main precondition to resuming negotiations, a demand that Israel completely cease all construction in the settlements and East Jerusalem. But, say sources on all three sides, Obama promised Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas that in return for his concession on a construction freeze, the U.S. would take under consideration the Palestinian demands on the framework of the negotiations.

The framework includes such matters as how the talks will be managed and what the opening conditions for the talks will be, and this is a matter of fierce dispute between Israel and the Palestinians, as well as with the U.S. administration. There are disagreements over a number of issues.

First, the Palestinians want to restart the talks where the government of Ehud Olmert left off, while Netanyahu argues that he is not bound by Olmert's proposals.

Second, the Palestinians want the negotiations to focus on the principle of a solution based on the 1967 borders, and Netanyahu strongly disagrees.

Third, the Palestinians want a two-year timeframe for the achievement of a permanent agreement, while Israel objects. In addition, the Palestinians want to hold negotiations on all the issues of the permanent settlement, including Jerusalem, refugees and borders. Israel still has not completed formulating its policy.

On Sunday, on the eve of the Yom Kippur, the seven senior ministers of the inner cabinet met, and Netanyahu briefed them on his meetings at the United Nations General Assembly in New York as well as the results of his meetings with the Americans.


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