On Thursday, Dennis Ross, a senior member of the US National Security Council, and David Hale, deputy to President Obama's envoy George Mitchell, arrived in West Jerusalem. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's office said Israel's security needs and the maintenance of the Israel Defense Forces' qualitative advantage during negotiations with the Palestinians would be discussed with the American diplomats.
Back in the US, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton declared that Washington's position on Israeli settlements in the West Bank has not changed; however, the US is not going to support the Palestinian proposal for international condemnation of Israel's "illegal" activities in the "occupied" lands. Clinton said:
With respect to activities concerning the Israeli and Palestinian efforts that we and others support, there is a Quartet meeting of envoys going on in Jerusalem in the next day to discuss the way forward. We continue to believe strongly that the only way that there will be a resolution of the conflict and a two-state solution that will result in an independent, viable Palestinian state and security for Israel is through a negotiated settlement. Therefore, we don’t see action in the United Nations or any other forum as being helpful in bringing about that desired outcome. Our position on settlements remains as it has been. I clearly spoke out about that on many occasions, and will continue to do so. But, ultimately, the Palestinian and Israeli people have to make a decision about whether they can engage in negotiations that will result in compromise on both sides to obtain what we believe will be not just two states living side by side in peace and security, but a much better future for the children of both Israelis and Palestinians.
Clinton added: "We're working to keep the focus where we think it needs to be and that is not in New York."
French Foreign Minister Michele Alliot-Marie is also in Israel. She is expected to go to Gaza on Friday after meeting with the parents of the Gilad Shalit, the Israeli soldier held by Hamas since 2006. A statement from the French Embassy said the main purpose of the Foreign Minister's visit was to "examine how France along with its European partners and in coordination with the US can contribute to the renewal of direct (Israeli-Palestinian) negotiations, the only way to achieve a viable solution to the conflict."
Alliot-Marie met with her Israeli colleague Avigdor Lieberman, Prime Minister Netanyahu, and President Shimon Peres. Lieberman unsurprisingly complained about the West Bankers, saying that while Israel has taken steps to facilitate peace with the Palestinians, the PA continues to "commemorate terrorists by naming streets and squares after them in their cities" He threatened to halt diplomatic relations with the Palestinian Authority and called on the US to refrain from giving foreign aid to the West Bank government.
Netanyahu, again unsurprisingly, delivered West Jerusalem's state policy towards Gazans, saying he will work to detch Israeli infrastructure from the Gaza Strip. This was a clear message to Hamas that tougher days could come if there is an escalation in tension. But it was also a message to Ramallah that the situation is because of Palestine's unilateralism and that the Palestinians should sit at the negotiating table or face that escalation and the damage it would cause them.
So where are we? The whispers to journalists in Washington and West Jerusalem --- to the point of undercutting the State Department and Mitchell --- is that Dennis Ross now the key liaison, ensuring that the US gets Israel's agreement to resumed negotiations. But that in turn raises an issue which is not in those pieces exalting Ross's role: given his reputation as a hard-liner against Palestinian demands, how could any agreement with West Jerusalem bring a balanced approach that promises productive talks?