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Israel-Palestine Analysis: Six Weeks of Indirect Talks But No Clear US Position

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has told US special envoy George Mitchell,said that he was "prepared to discuss all of the fundamental issues" necessary for resuming negotiations with Palestinians and reaching a peace agreement.

Netanyahu, with no preconditions such as a settlement freeze, is ready to sit and discuss matters freely. According to some sources, the issues of refugees (with reference to the demand to recognize the "Jewish" character of the State of Israel), security issues, and borders are expected to be on the table. 

The Palestinian side is not in the same position. It has received no "guarantees" from the Obama Administration over recognition of a Palestinian state based on pre-1967 borders --- whether that is through the UN, from Washington, or through talks --- and a "complete halt" to Israeli construction in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas said he was upset that Mitchell insisted that border negotiations will not necessarily be on these lines. Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat added that "any negotiations or talks require an end to settlement activities". Ramallah is not willing to give up "pressure" on West Jerusalem to extendthe freeze on building in the West Bank for three months.

On Wednesday, as the Arab League considers its own peace initiative, Qatar's Foreign Minister Hamad bin Jassim said that Arabs are skeptical the US,  following its failure to force a settlement freeze,  will be able to press Israel on core issues.

And US envoy Mitchell? After a meeting with Egypt's President Hosni Mubarak, he said:

In the days ahead our discussions with both sides will be substantive, two way conversations with an eye towards making real progress in the next few months on the key questions of an eventual framework agreement.

Mitchell declared that a framework agreement addressing all final status issues would "pave the way towards a final peace agreement, and this remains our goal".

According to Agence France Presse, Mitchell suggested that the U.S. hold separate but "parallel" talks with both sides, for a period of six weeks. This launch of "fresh" indirect meetings is not surprising, since only a new package based a restart of talks on core issues with no preconditions can overcome the deadlock reached between West Jerusalem and Washington.

The problem is that the US now seems to have no leverage with Israel. Thus all the headline attention is on "security" rather than the situation of Palestinians and the legitimacy of their state. All a Palestinian official can hold up to AFP was this: "What is discussed with each side will not be divulged to the other, but the aim is for the U.S. administration to form an idea of what the two parties want with a view to drawing up a strategy to relaunch direct negotiations at the time it deems appropriate."

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