Avi Issacharoff, Natasha Mozgovaya, Barak Ravid
Haaretz (Analysis)
January 7, 2010 - 1:00am

Washington wants the international community to issue a joint call next week for renewed negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, Jerusalem officials said on Wednesday.

The American administration wants the statement to be issued at the end of a meeting held in Brussels of the Quartet - the United Nations, United States, Russia and the European Union.

U.S. envoy George Mitchell intends to brief the Quartet at the meeting on his talks with Israel and the Palestinian Authority in a bid to resume the negotiations between the sides.

Quartet envoy Tony Blair is scheduled to attend the meeting. The other delegates are still to be determined.

Senior Jerusalem officials said on Wednesday that the U.S. administration wants the Quartet's meeting to provide further international support for Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and result in the issuing of a statement calling to renew the peace talks.

The Americans hope the statement, agreed on by the international community, will persuade Abbas to be more flexible and agree to resume the talks. The last time the Americans tried to draft a statement supporting a renewal in negotiations, Russia thwarted the effort.

Meanwhile, George Mitchell, the U.S. Middle East envoy, said on Wednesday that Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations should take no longer than two years and could be finished sooner than that.

Mitchell said in an interview on the "Charlie Rose" television program on PBS he plans to return to the region in the next few days and hopes to make progress on political, security and economic tracks of the peace process.

"We think that the negotiation should last no more than two years, once begun we think it can be done within that period of time," Mitchell said. "We hope the parties agree. Personally I think it can be done in a shorter period of time."

He said an Israel-Syria track could operate in parallel with an Israeli-Palestinian track.

Mitchell is expected for meetings in Israel and the Palestinian Authority in about 10 days, and also plans to visit Syria and Lebanon.

When he travels to the region, Mitchell is expected to be carrying letters of guarantees outlining the U.S. position.

The letters are likely to contain gestures to both sides. For the Palestinians, that would include criticism of settlements and the belief that the borders that existed before the 1967 Arab-Israeli War be the basis of a future peace deal. For the Israelis, they would acknowledge that post-1967 demographic changes on the ground must be taken into account, meaning that Israel would be able to keep some settlements.

Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit and Egyptian intelligence chief Omar Suleiman are set to arrive in Washington Thursday. The two are expected to meet with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton as well as Mitchell and Jones, brief them on Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak's talks with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Abbas, and propose various ideas to resume the negotiations.

The officials in Jerusalem said that after Aboul Gheit and Suleiman return, the chances of restarting talks will be clearer. The Egyptians may invite Netanyahu and Abbas for separate talks with Mubarak, they said.

Abbas confirmed Wednesday that Washington has formulated a plan to jumpstart the negotiations over the final-status arrangement between Israel and the Palestinians. However, he told journalists in Qatar that the plan was still being examined.

Abbas insisted that Israel must stop settlement construction and recognize the 1967 borders to enable the talks' resumption.

He also said the main issue holding up the Gilad Shalit deal is the potential deportation of prisoners who will be released in exchange for the captive Israeli soldier. He said Israel's demand to deport the prisoners was a "disgrace."

The Egyptian newspaper Al-Gomhuria reported Wednesday that Egypt is advancing a new diplomatic initiative designed to resume the talks between Israel and the Palestinians. Israel would have to recognize the 1967 borders and East Jerusalem as Palestine's capital before the negotiations begin, the report said.

The report also stated that the Egyptian initiative would raise the possibility of exchanging territory equivalent to one-third of the West Bank, while the PA would agree to the construction of some 8,000 housing units in the West Bank.


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