After long months of diplomatic impasse, proximity talks between Israel and the Palestinians are expected to be launched Wednesday, in a meeting between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and US Special Envoy George Mitchell.
Envoy Mitchell is expected to hold meetings in Ramallah later this week, yet top Israeli officials expressed their disappointment over Palestinian President Abbas' failure to announce that the PA will be embarking on talks.
"The prime minister and his team have already completed all the necessary preparations for advancing the diplomatic process and will be happy to embark on proximity talks in Wednesday's meeting," a very senior Jerusalem official said. "We hope this will happen and that the Palestinians won't resort to evasion and delay tactics yet again."
The Netanyahu-Mitchell meeting is expected to be held at the PM's Jerusalem office at 5 pm Wednesday.
Meanwhile, senior Palestinian figures say Fatah institutions have not yet approved the proximity talks. The announcement made by the Arab League, as well as Egyptian President Mubarak's endorsement, have not satisfied Fatah, the figures said.
This, officials say, has frustrated PM Netanyahu.
"The prime minister warned for an entire year against wasting time. He called on the Palestinian leadership to stop setting preconditions again and again. He called for the renewal of the peace process without delay," a senior government official said "Even now, the prime minister is willing to begin peace talks immediately."
After the Prime Minister's Office announced that proximity talks would indeed begin in the meeting with Mitchell, a small negotiating team was put together. Netanyahu will lead the team, which includes attorney Yitzhak Molcho, National Security Advisor Uzi Arad, and Ron Dermer, a senior aide to the prime minister.
The team has prepared its opening positions, with Netanyahu willing to discuss all issues during indirect talks, including Jerusalem. However, the first issue on the table will be Israel's security, and only later will the teams discuss borders, Jerusalem, the status of the refugees, and more.
However, it remains unclear whether the meeting with Mitchell Wednesday will indeed launch the talks. The Palestinians are awaiting the approval of the Fatah, and Israel is currently seeking US pressure on Abbas to announce the beginning of negotiations.
Currently, officials are hoping that by the time the Mitchell-Netanyahu meeting draws to an end, the Palestinian president will announce his willingness to begin proximity talks.