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The Cable: "Mitchell meets Netanyahu (UPDATED)" & BBC: "Israel-US settlement deal 'close'"

"Israel says it is nearing agreement with the US on settlement building in the occupied West Bank, after its PM held talks with a US envoy in London."

http://thecable.foreignpolicy.com/posts/2009/08/26/very_productive_mitchell_netanyahu_meeting

The Cable: "Mitchell meets Netanyahu (UPDATED)"

Wed, 08/26/2009

After talks in London Tuesday, U.S. Middle East peace envoy George Mitchell and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu issued a joint statement calling the discussions "very productive."

"They agreed on the importance of restarting meaningful negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians and working toward a comprehensive peace, and that all sides need to take concrete steps toward peace," their statement said. "The Prime Minister and the Senator made good progress today, and an Israeli delegation will meet Senator Mitchell next week in the United States to continue the conversation."

Heading into the talks, several Washington Middle East hands expressed the belief that the parties are getting close to an agreement on resuming Middle East peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians, Israel and Syria, and on resuming normal relations between Israel and its Arab neighbors in the fall.

But with U.S. officials typically tightlipped after the meeting, it wasn't immediately clear if Mitchell and Netanyahu were able to bridge differences in the meeting in particular on the settlements freeze issue to advance the process. "We want to keep these negotiations in a confidential, diplomatic track," State Department spokesman Ian Kelly said Wednesday. "And I'm not going to try and characterize what the prime minister has said and I'm not going to try and characterize where we're going to come out on the issue of settlement.  We are in a sensitive time."

Follow-up meetings between U.S. and Israeli officials are due to take place next week in Washington, Kelly said.

"What did they produce?" a former senior Israeli official said, after reading the joint statement. "If there was 'progress,'" he added, "they'll save it to [announce] when he meets Obama," at the UN General Assembly opening session in New York next month.

The Obama administration has been expected to try to announce some version of its broad peace plan principles and a rough timeline for proceeding around the time of the UN powwow. 

"My understanding is that Mitchell does not favor publishing a grand US plan, but wants gradualism to settle in," the former senior Israeli official said.

Some sort of peace conference, provisionally envisaged to be held in the fall, could launch such discussions. Western diplomats have said Russia and France are both interested in hosting such an event, if the parties decide to go that route. Veteran Middle East peace negotiator Aaron David Miller has described the emerging Obama-led peace process as "Madrid Plus," and has described the settlement freeze details Mitchell and Netanyahu are approaching as unprecedented in scope, though he remains skeptical that Israelis and Palestinians can bridge yawning differences over the issues of borders, refugee return and Jerusalem to ultimately achieve a peace deal.

Mitchell arrived in London Tuesday with his team, including the NSC's senior director for the Middle East and North Africa Dan Shapiro. In meetings with news editors in London Monday, Netanyahu seemed to describe Israeli and U.S. positions moving closer together on a settlements deal, policy towards Iran, and other issues, according to sources familiar with the discussion.

Washington's policy to Iran is not being altered to get Israeli buy-in to the peace process, U.S. officials said, noting that the offer to engage Iran both stands and is genuine. That said, one said, if the prevailing recent sense in Washington that Iran is unlikely to meaningfully engage in the timetable that the Obama administration has long telegraphed is reassuring to the Israelis and helps move the Middle East process forward, that is a useful side benefit.

Earlier this week, the State Department's Kelly had tried to manage expectations of what might come out of today's Mitchell-Netanyahu meetings. "There have been some reports that we're close to a breakthrough," Kelly said at a press conference Monday. "But any reports that we've come to an agreement, or that we expect one on Wednesday necessarily, I would have to call premature. We're getting closer to laying this foundation where everybody's comfortable to coming and sitting down and talking."

Some observers said Washington and Jerusalem appear to be trying to iron out nitty gritty details about a relatively small number of exceptions to a total initial freeze on Jewish settlements in the West Bank, and on Jewish residence in East Jerusalem.

"We'd prefer a freeze that includes every single structure and is permanent," wrote Americans for Peace Now's Lara Friedman, a former State Department Middle East hand.  "But let's remember:  a freeze is not an end in itself.  The goal here is to get a freeze that is politically significant and sufficiently credible to help launch serious negotiations that, if they succeed, will render the details of the freeze irrelevant, since a final status agreement will resolve the issue, once and for all."

http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/middle_east/8221559.stm
 
BBC: "Israel-US settlement deal 'close'"

Israel says it is nearing agreement with the US on settlement building in the occupied West Bank, after its PM held talks with a US envoy in London.

The US wants Israel to comply with Palestinian demands that it stop all building before peace talks can start.

The US and Israel were "getting closer" to a "bridging formula", a spokesman for Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu said.

Mr Netanyahu said earlier that he hoped talks with the Palestinians would restart "shortly".

BBC Middle East editor Jeremy Bowen says US President Barack Obama is hoping to unveil a Middle East peace plan at the United Nations in September.

ANALYSIS

Jeremy Bowen, BBC Middle East Editor According to Mr Netanyahu's spokesman, Israel is ready to restrict construction for Jews in the occupied Palestinian territories. But it looks as if it won't be the comprehensive freeze that the Americans - and Palestinians - wanted. Israel says it won't accept any restrictions on what it does in Jerusalem, part of which is occupied territory. A senior Israeli official said they were confident that the Americans would persuade the Palestinians to go along with the deal they're poised to make. It's all aimed at paving the way for a resumption of US sponsored peace talks in the next few weeks. After that President Obama is hoping to unveil a Middle East peace plan at the UN in New York next month. During this visit to London Mr Netanyahu has also quoted approvingly a call by the US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for crippling sanctions against Iran. She said they'd be necessary if diplomacy failed to stop Iran's programme of nuclear enrichment.

Mr Netanyahu and US envoy George Mitchell released a joint statement after their four-hour meeting at the Park Lane Hotel, saying Israeli officials would meet Mr Mitchell again next week, AFP news agency reported.

Before the two met, Mr Netanyahu said the US and Israel were "making headway" and said he hoped the two sides would "shortly be able to resume normal talks".

There has been speculation that Mr Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas could meet on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in September.

Speaking anonymously, Palestinian officials said this was a possibility, although the two could only meet for talks, not formal negotiations.

The Palestinians have refused to resume peace negotiations unless Israel stops all settlement building.

Wednesday's meeting in London followed talks with UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown, when Mr Netanyahu rejected any construction freeze in occupied East Jerusalem.

He reiterated his demand that the Palestinians recognise Israel as a Jewish state.

Mr Netanyahu has said Israel will not build new settlements, but wants to continue building within existing ones to allow for the "natural growth" of the communities living there.

The American pressure on Mr Netanyahu has strained normally close Israel-US ties.

After meeting Mr Mitchell in London, Mr Netanyahu is travelling to Berlin, the next stop on his four-day European tour.

Dispute

Some 450,000 Israeli settlers live in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem. The settlements are illegal under international law, although Israel disputes this.

Israel agreed to freeze settlement activity as part of the 2003 staged international peace plan known as the roadmap.

But Israeli officials say there was an unwritten understanding with the administration of former US President George W Bush that allowed limited growth within existing settlements to continue.

Mr Netanyahu's right-leaning government has not published tenders for new housing units in settlements since it came to power in April.

But the left-wing Israeli group Peace Now, which monitors building in settlements, says government-backed projects make up only 40% of construction and that building has been continuing on the ground in many places.

http://thecable.foreignpolicy.com/posts/2009/08/26/very_productive_mitchell_netanyahu_meeting

The Cable: "Mitchell meets Netanyahu (UPDATED)"

Wed, 08/26/2009

After talks in London Tuesday, U.S. Middle East peace envoy George Mitchell and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu issued a joint statement calling the discussions "very productive."

"They agreed on the importance of restarting meaningful negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians and working toward a comprehensive peace, and that all sides need to take concrete steps toward peace," their statement said. "The Prime Minister and the Senator made good progress today, and an Israeli delegation will meet Senator Mitchell next week in the United States to continue the conversation."

Heading into the talks, several Washington Middle East hands expressed the belief that the parties are getting close to an agreement on resuming Middle East peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians, Israel and Syria, and on resuming normal relations between Israel and its Arab neighbors in the fall.

But with U.S. officials typically tightlipped after the meeting, it wasn't immediately clear if Mitchell and Netanyahu were able to bridge differences in the meeting in particular on the settlements freeze issue to advance the process. "We want to keep these negotiations in a confidential, diplomatic track," State Department spokesman Ian Kelly said Wednesday. "And I'm not going to try and characterize what the prime minister has said and I'm not going to try and characterize where we're going to come out on the issue of settlement.  We are in a sensitive time."

Follow-up meetings between U.S. and Israeli officials are due to take place next week in Washington, Kelly said.

"What did they produce?" a former senior Israeli official said, after reading the joint statement. "If there was 'progress,'" he added, "they'll save it to [announce] when he meets Obama," at the UN General Assembly opening session in New York next month.

The Obama administration has been expected to try to announce some version of its broad peace plan principles and a rough timeline for proceeding around the time of the UN powwow. 

"My understanding is that Mitchell does not favor publishing a grand US plan, but wants gradualism to settle in," the former senior Israeli official said.

Some sort of peace conference, provisionally envisaged to be held in the fall, could launch such discussions. Western diplomats have said Russia and France are both interested in hosting such an event, if the parties decide to go that route. Veteran Middle East peace negotiator Aaron David Miller has described the emerging Obama-led peace process as "Madrid Plus," and has described the settlement freeze details Mitchell and Netanyahu are approaching as unprecedented in scope, though he remains skeptical that Israelis and Palestinians can bridge yawning differences over the issues of borders, refugee return and Jerusalem to ultimately achieve a peace deal.

Mitchell arrived in London Tuesday with his team, including the NSC's senior director for the Middle East and North Africa Dan Shapiro. In meetings with news editors in London Monday, Netanyahu seemed to describe Israeli and U.S. positions moving closer together on a settlements deal, policy towards Iran, and other issues, according to sources familiar with the discussion.

Washington's policy to Iran is not being altered to get Israeli buy-in to the peace process, U.S. officials said, noting that the offer to engage Iran both stands and is genuine. That said, one said, if the prevailing recent sense in Washington that Iran is unlikely to meaningfully engage in the timetable that the Obama administration has long telegraphed is reassuring to the Israelis and helps move the Middle East process forward, that is a useful side benefit.

Earlier this week, the State Department's Kelly had tried to manage expectations of what might come out of today's Mitchell-Netanyahu meetings. "There have been some reports that we're close to a breakthrough," Kelly said at a press conference Monday. "But any reports that we've come to an agreement, or that we expect one on Wednesday necessarily, I would have to call premature. We're getting closer to laying this foundation where everybody's comfortable to coming and sitting down and talking."

Some observers said Washington and Jerusalem appear to be trying to iron out nitty gritty details about a relatively small number of exceptions to a total initial freeze on Jewish settlements in the West Bank, and on Jewish residence in East Jerusalem.

"We'd prefer a freeze that includes every single structure and is permanent," wrote Americans for Peace Now's Lara Friedman, a former State Department Middle East hand.  "But let's remember:  a freeze is not an end in itself.  The goal here is to get a freeze that is politically significant and sufficiently credible to help launch serious negotiations that, if they succeed, will render the details of the freeze irrelevant, since a final status agreement will resolve the issue, once and for all."

http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/middle_east/8221559.stm
 
BBC: "Israel-US settlement deal 'close'"

Israel says it is nearing agreement with the US on settlement building in the occupied West Bank, after its PM held talks with a US envoy in London.

The US wants Israel to comply with Palestinian demands that it stop all building before peace talks can start.

The US and Israel were "getting closer" to a "bridging formula", a spokesman for Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu said.

Mr Netanyahu said earlier that he hoped talks with the Palestinians would restart "shortly".

BBC Middle East editor Jeremy Bowen says US President Barack Obama is hoping to unveil a Middle East peace plan at the United Nations in September.

ANALYSIS

Jeremy Bowen, BBC Middle East Editor According to Mr Netanyahu's spokesman, Israel is ready to restrict construction for Jews in the occupied Palestinian territories. But it looks as if it won't be the comprehensive freeze that the Americans - and Palestinians - wanted. Israel says it won't accept any restrictions on what it does in Jerusalem, part of which is occupied territory. A senior Israeli official said they were confident that the Americans would persuade the Palestinians to go along with the deal they're poised to make. It's all aimed at paving the way for a resumption of US sponsored peace talks in the next few weeks. After that President Obama is hoping to unveil a Middle East peace plan at the UN in New York next month. During this visit to London Mr Netanyahu has also quoted approvingly a call by the US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for crippling sanctions against Iran. She said they'd be necessary if diplomacy failed to stop Iran's programme of nuclear enrichment.

Mr Netanyahu and US envoy George Mitchell released a joint statement after their four-hour meeting at the Park Lane Hotel, saying Israeli officials would meet Mr Mitchell again next week, AFP news agency reported.

Before the two met, Mr Netanyahu said the US and Israel were "making headway" and said he hoped the two sides would "shortly be able to resume normal talks".

There has been speculation that Mr Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas could meet on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in September.

Speaking anonymously, Palestinian officials said this was a possibility, although the two could only meet for talks, not formal negotiations.

The Palestinians have refused to resume peace negotiations unless Israel stops all settlement building.

Wednesday's meeting in London followed talks with UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown, when Mr Netanyahu rejected any construction freeze in occupied East Jerusalem.

He reiterated his demand that the Palestinians recognise Israel as a Jewish state.

Mr Netanyahu has said Israel will not build new settlements, but wants to continue building within existing ones to allow for the "natural growth" of the communities living there.

The American pressure on Mr Netanyahu has strained normally close Israel-US ties.

After meeting Mr Mitchell in London, Mr Netanyahu is travelling to Berlin, the next stop on his four-day European tour.

Dispute

Some 450,000 Israeli settlers live in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem. The settlements are illegal under international law, although Israel disputes this.

Israel agreed to freeze settlement activity as part of the 2003 staged international peace plan known as the roadmap.

But Israeli officials say there was an unwritten understanding with the administration of former US President George W Bush that allowed limited growth within existing settlements to continue.

Mr Netanyahu's right-leaning government has not published tenders for new housing units in settlements since it came to power in April.

But the left-wing Israeli group Peace Now, which monitors building in settlements, says government-backed projects make up only 40% of construction and that building has been continuing on the ground in many places.