Herb Keinon
The Jerusalem Post
January 15, 2010 - 1:00am

Israel is not rejecting the idea of "proximity talks," whereby a US envoy would shuttle and mediate between Israeli and Palestinian delegations, as a way to relaunch face-to-face negotiations, The Jerusalem Post has learned.

One senior source, who confirmed that this idea was "out there," said it was clear that when the time came for the two sides to talk about substantive issues, they would need to do so directly. But, he added, in order to move the process forward, or to "launch" the negotiations, something different - like this "proximity" formula - might be necessary.

"There are different ideas about how exactly to get to the starting line," the official said, including the possibility of a summit in Egypt. Earlier this month there was talk that Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak would host a summit with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas as a way to launch the talks.

This issue was likely discussed on Thursday between Netanyahu and visiting US National Security Adviser James Jones. No details of that meeting were released beyond a short statement saying that the two men talked about how to set the diplomatic process in motion, and discussed regional security threats.

Jones's visit has been veiled in a thick shroud of secrecy since he arrived on Tuesday. He has met with President Shimon Peres and Defense Minister Ehud Barak, in addition to Netanyahu, but absolutely nothing has been released regarding the content of the talks.

US Middle East envoy George Mitchell is expected to arrive next week to try to end the diplomatic impasse.

Israeli officials said that the Palestinians would "milk" the impasse as long as they could in order to improve their starting position in the negotiations. "The question is whether there will be any serious pressure" to get the Palestinians back to the talks, he said.

The feeling in the Prime Minister's Office, in advance of Mitchell's visit, is that in the wake of Netanyahu's declaration of a housing-start moratorium in the West Bank there is a sense among the Israeli public that the government has taken serious steps in the direction of restarting talks, and that it is now time for the PA to act.

While there was also a sense in the Prime Minister's Office that this is the position of the US administration, one official said, "this is not quite the case in Europe."

Jerusalem, he added, was urging the international community to issue as many statements as possible calling for the PA to return to the talks without preconditions.


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