US official: No alternative to 2-state solution
American president's special envoy to Middle East, George Mitchell, holds marathon talks with political echelon. 'Contrary to the impression created in Israel by the new government, Obama is determined to advance the peace process with the Palestinians in the near future,' says source involved in meetings
"There is nothing to add to the very clear statements made by former Senator Mitchell," said an American source involved in the meetings. "Whoever hasn't comprehended this, doesn't understand what President Obama is saying."
Talks with American and Israeli sources involved in Mitchell's meetings with the Israeli political echelon reveal that the US does not believe in economic peace and that the formula suggested by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman and the Shas party is unacceptable to the Americans.
Mitchell made it clear at the end of his meeting with Lieberman that the economic issue is only part of the dialogue with the Palestinians in the West Bank. The White House's message to the prime minister is clear: We're ready for international and Israeli economic support of the Palestinians, but not as an alternative to the peace process.
Mitchell with Netanyahu (Photo: Amos Ben-Gershom, GPO)
On the backdrop of Mitchell's talks in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv with the prime minister, foreign minister, Defense Minister Ehud Barak and Opposition Chairwoman Tzipi Livni, there are additional differences of opinion which have not been stressed.
The Americans have not gone back on a firm demand made during Condoleezza Rice's tenure as secretary of state, that Israel halts the construction of settlements completely, including in the Jerusalem vicinity.
Another demand relates to Israel's immediate commitment to remove all illegal outposts, and a third demand is that the Netanyahu government recognizes its commitment to reignite the dialogue with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Salam Fayyad.
"Contrary to the impression created in Israel by the new government," said an American source between one meeting to another, "President Obama is determined to advance the peace process with the Palestinians in the near future.
"There is a reason for envoy Mitchell's third visit to Jerusalem, there is a reason for his intention to rent offices here, and there is a reason for President Abbas and the Jordanian king being invited to the White House.
"The White House's policy is to make progress according to what has already been achieved: The Road Map and the Annapolis conference declarations, as said by President Obama in his speech at the Turkish parliament."
US pressure making Israel sweat
Netanyahu, Lieberman and Barak, on the other hand, are trying to play for time. During their Thursday meetings with Mitchell, Spanish Foreign Minister Miguel Moratinos and Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Saltanov, they demanded a revision of the peace process with the Palestinians.
The wording was dictated by Netanyahu: "We are in the midst of reexamining the process and raiding new ideas." His ministers reiterated this, in a bid to shake off the obvious and immediate American pressure.
"The US administration has also yet to complete its plans and policy, three months after entering the White House. The Israeli government also deserves a few weeks to examine the issue," said a senior Jerusalem official.
However, Mitchell's pressure during this visit, which may be followed by a meeting between Netanyahu and Obama several weeks from now, is making senior governmental officials sweat.
When confronted with the American demand that Israel recognizes the two states for two people solution, Netanyahu told Mitchell that the Palestinians must first recognize Israel as a Jewish state. The Israeli demand, which is presented as a condition for moving forward, is aimed at shaking off the pressure.
As clarified by an aide to the prime minister, Netanyahu turned over part of the responsibility to the Palestinians, who have failed to meet their commitments so far.
Netanyahu, Lieberman and Barak, a senior state official clarified, truly believe that the US can still be diverted from the Annapolis outline and returned to the Road Map outline. In other words, demands must be made to the Palestinians according to former US President George W. Bush's vision, dissolving the heavy concessions offered by former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to the Palestinian president.
At the end of the busy diplomatic day, however, it was clear to the prime minister, foreign minister and defense minister, that the road to achieving this is hard and may be impossible.
As stated by a source in Mitchell's entourage, "We have yet to be convinced that there is a real alternative to the official US policy, which states that the solution for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict lies in the establishment of a Palestinian state alongside the Jewish state."