RAMALLAH, March 7 (JMCC) - US envoy George Mitchell arrived in Israel on Saturday night, setting out on his mission to initiate indirect talks between Palestinians and Israelis.
But the few days of violence that preceded his visit demonstrated that these “proximity talks” are doomed to fail.
Mitchell’s visit comes three days after the foreign ministers of the Arab League approved indirect talks for a window of four months.
His visit to Israel will include meetings with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Israeli President Shimon Peres and Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman.
A NEW PACKAGE
Mitchell carries in his pocket a plan for restarting formal talks based on “confidence-building measures” that will bring the two sides to negotiate thorny final status issues.
These include Israel’s release of Palestinian prisoners, withdrawal from areas of the occupied West Bank, and the easing of travel restrictions, according to reports in the US media.
In exchange, Palestinians will agree to restart negotiations, dropping demands that Israel stop settlement construction completely before the resumption of formal talks.
Mitchell is to meet Monday with Palestinians, starting the first round of his shuttle diplomacy.
STAVING OFF VIOLENCE
Few are terribly optimistic that Palestinians and Israelis are on their way to final status negotiations. The real goal of these proximity talks is to fill a void that is gradually inspiring violence.
The events of recent days show that it is probably too late.
On Friday, some 60 Palestinians were injured when clashes broke out during prayer time at the al-Aqsa Mosque compound. Demonstrations continued Saturday evening in Shufat refugee camp and Issawiyah, both in East Jerusalem.
The continuous flow of radical Israeli settlers into the eastern Arab regions of the city is putting them in close proximity to Palestinians - too close for comfort.
A NEW STANCE?
Palestinians have been told that the US plans to lay blame at the feet of the party that causes the new indirect talks to fail.
They hope that this will shine a light on what they say is “Israeli intransigence” and opposition to serious negotiations that might lead to the creation of a Palestinian state.
But the actions of the United States, which belatedly claimed it had not supported a UN Security Council statement condemning Friday’s Jerusalem events, doesn’t lend a lot of hope that the US is becoming an honest broker.
Envoy Mitchell has visited the region more than ten times since taking his post. None of these trips have resulted in real progress in the negotiations between Palestinians and Israelis.
Instead, Palestinians find themselves demanding repeatedly that Israel stop building settlements before returning to the negotiating table. Israel has refused, calling this a “precondition” meant to stall the peace process.
The commitment that Israel did make – for a ten-month settlement freeze excluding Jerusalem and West Bank settlers’ natural growth – will expire in September.
Time is running out for moves that mean real change in the lives of the Palestinian people.