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Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Mr. Mitchell stays home

US Special Middle East envoy George Mitchell is not coming to Israel today (Tuesday) as planned.
US Special Envoy to the Middle East George Mitchell has decided to postpone his visit to the region, the US embassy informed the President's Office on Tuesday.

The meeting between President Shimon Peres and Mitchell will therefore be postponed. No official announcement has yet been made by the Prime Minister's Office or by the Embassy.
Haaretz adds that the trip is on hold "pending an Israeli response to a series of American demands."
Mitchell is thought to have delayed his travel plans until late Tuesday but may now cancel his visit to Israel altogether, instead flying straight to Moscow for talks with the 'Quartet' of Middle East peace mediators - the European Union, the United Nations, the United States and Russia.

"We want to make sure that we have the commitment from both sides that when he travels we can make progress," State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said.
The 'quartet' is due to meet in Moscow on Thursday.

On Monday night, Prime Minister Netanyahu said that Israel would continue to build everywhere in Jerusalem just as every government has since 1967. The Obama administration responded by saying it was waiting for an 'official Israeli response.'

According to Haaretz, Israel tried to convince Mitchell not to change his plans to travel here today.
Late Monday night Israel's foreign ministry was still in last ditch negotiations to dissuade Mitchell from calling off his trip.

"Mitchell is hesitant as he is not convinced that the timing of the visit, at a moment of high tension between Israel and the U.S., is genuinely conducive to advancing negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority," a senior Israeli official told Haaretz.

According to a report in The Washington Post Tuesday, U.S. officials say that Mitchell's visit will remain on hold until the White House receives an Israeli response to key demands.

Israel must reverse its approval for construction in Ramat Shlomo, make a "substantial gesture" towards the Palestinians and publicly declare that all of the "core issues" in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, including the status of Jerusalem, be included in upcoming talks.

The three conditions, set by U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in a 43-minute telephone call to Netanyahu on Friday, have not been publicized by the U.S. - but Israel is expected to provide a formal answer on Tuesday, the Post reported.
A later JPost report quotes the US embassy in Tel Aviv as saying that the trip was delayed because of 'logistics' and not because of the ongoing crisis in relations.
The US Embassy in Tel Aviv on Tuesday morning confirmed that US Special Mideast envoy George Mitchell will not arrive in Israel on Tuesday evening as planned, but denied reports that the trip was postponed because Washington was waiting for a formal Israeli response over its concerns on an east Jerusalem housing plan.

Sources in the embassy said Mitchell postponed his visit due to "logistical reasons" and will come sometime after a meeting of the Middle East Quartet - the US, UN, EU and Russia - in Moscow Thursday.

The special Mideast envoy has consultations in Washington on Tuesday and will not be able to have meetings here following that and still make it to the Quarter meeting, the sources told The Jerusalem Post.
Let me add one more element to the mix: Late on Monday night, Foreign Policy's The Cable blog reported that some people in the Obama administration believe that Clinton went too far on Friday and has asked Netanyahu to do things that he cannot do.
Some insiders fear that asking Netanyahu for things that he might not be able to deliver, the administration is actually making a return to talks more difficult than it has to be. For example, it's not clear that Netanyahu is in a position to unilaterally reverse the settlement announcement.

More importantly, the tenuous trust between Netanyahu and the White House is more strained now, a diplomatic source said, wondering aloud why Netanyahu would be reassured that if he did walk back the settlements announcement that would be the end of the kerfluffle.

"By setting down a public marker in this way, out beyond what can be expected from any Israeli government, we are literally repeating the mistakes the administration made in the spring and has yet to recover from," said one Middle East hand. "If the administration wants Israel to trust them, and hopes they will discuss substance in indirect talks, this is the absolute opposite of an ideal approach."
Here's how I believe that the sequence of events played out:

1. Netanyahu told the Likud that the government will continue to build in Jerusalem like all Israeli governments have since 1967.

2. Clinton said that the US was waiting for a formal response, but canceled Mitchell's trip and leaked a story that Mitchell would not come back here until the US gets what it wants from Netanyahu.

3. Someone managed to get to Clinton or Obama and make them realize that they were giving Netanyahu no choice other than to refuse to do America's bidding or call new elections. New elections in Israel would put the country on hold for three months in terms of the 'peace process' moving forward, and based on current surveys would result in an even more Right wing government that would be less willing to make 'concessions' to the 'Palestinians' (yes, the polls show Likud gaining seats and Kadima and Labor both losing them). So the Obami backed off and claimed Mitchell wasn't coming because of 'logistics.'

Will Mitchell be here next week? Honestly, unless he has a coherent strategy and reasonable requests, I'd rather he stay home. Besides, Netanyahu is going to Washington next week.


At 3:43 PM, Blogger Juniper in the Desert said...

The US Gov and Mitchell are behaving in a shameful and treacherous way!

None of the arabs or Iran recognize Israel's right to even exist, Hamas refuses to. And yet the pressure is on Israel!

Obama has lain down and presented his - and therefore America's backside for the muslims to abuse.

Please Israel: go on the offensive! tell those cowardly creeps "No more! We will not discuss ANYTHING until every muslim-colonised nation publicly recognises Israels right to have its land!

Enough is enough!

At 11:33 PM, Blogger NormanF said...

The American strategy backfired very badly. By making demands on Israel on an issue that Netanyahu can win on at home, Obumbler was playing with a weak hand.

And the opposition in Israel is not going to be helped by the fact the US has made a demand the PA and Abu Bluff hadn't made - and now the PA can hardly be less extreme than the American Administration. Forget about "proximity talks" even getting under way.

The entire mess isn't Israel's fault.



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