x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Momentum builds for Middle East peace talks

US envoy to the region to visit other Quartet peacemakers next week before returning with pledges for Israelis and Palestinians.

WASHINGTON // High-level delegations from Egypt and Jordan met with top US officials yesterday for talks on the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, capping off a busy week of activity here and in the Middle East that signals a new determination by world leaders to revive the stalled negotiations.

Jordan's foreign minister, Nasser Judeh, met Hillary Clinton, the US secretary of state, and George Mitchell, the US special envoy to the Middle East. The Egyptian foreign minister, Ahmed Aboul Gheit, and the country's intelligence chief, Omar Suleiman, meanwhile, were also scheduled to meet Mrs Clinton and Mr Mitchell. Speaking after her meeting with Mr Judeh, Mrs Clinton urged Palestinians and Israelis to resume peace talks "without preconditions", backing Palestinian aims for a state along the 1967 boundaries.

The parties can reach a solution that "reconciles the Palestinian goal of an independent and viable state based on the 1967 lines, with agreed swaps and the Israeli goal of a Jewish state with secure and recognised borders", she said. Mr Judeh also encouraged the parties to return to talks stalled since last year but which he said should be bound by a timeline and a clear plan with "benchmarks". The visits come as the US is readying a new diplomatic push in the region.

Mr Mitchell leaves for Europe tomorrow for meetings with his counterparts in the "Quartet" of Middle East peacemakers, comprised of the US, the European Union, the United Nations and Russia. He then will travel to Israel and the Palestinian territories. The former senator, who helped broker the Northern Ireland peace accord in the late 1990s, said earlier this week he believed an agreement between the two sides could be reached within two years or less, as soon as both sides return to the negotiating table.

"The harder part is getting started than getting finished," he told the PBS programme Charlie Rose this week. For now, the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, refuses to resume direct talks without first securing a complete freeze on all Israeli settlement construction. After meeting with the Egyptian president, Hosni Mubarak, this week, Mr Abbas reiterated that he would resume talks only after "settlement activity ends".

Israel has agreed to halt construction in the West Bank for 10 months, but has stoked tensions by pushing ahead with housing projects in East Jerusalem, which Palestinians claim as the capital of their future state. On his visit to the region, Mr Mitchell is expected to be carrying "letters of assurance" to both the Palestinians and Israelis that outline the US position and contain pledges aimed to satisfy both sides. For Palestinians, that likely means a promise to pursue a two-state solution based roughly on the 1967 borders.

On the Israeli side, such a letter is likely to recognise large settlements as part of Israel in exchange for other territory. Arab leaders this week also held a series of meetings to discuss regional peace efforts. sstanek@thenational.ae