WASHINGTON – Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said Friday that the Mideast peace process will get back on track next week, though not the U.S.-brokered direct talks involving Israelis and Palestinians that the Obama administration wants to see.
George Mitchell, the special U.S. envoy to the Mideast, will mediate the discussions when he travels to the region. His visit will follow a meeting this weekend of Arab League diplomats. Mitchell is expected to leave on Sunday and spend the week holding discussions with Israelis and Palestinians, U.S. officials said.
For now, it’s indirect talks, with Mitchell and aides meeting with one side at a time, then shuttling to the other. There aren’t any negotiations planned with Israelis and Palestinians at the same table.
“Ultimately, we want to see the parties in direct negotiations and working out all the difficult issues that they must,” Clinton told reporters after meeting with Kuwait’s foreign minister, Mohammad Sabah al-Salem al Sabah.
Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said his side was making “every possible effort to begin these talks.” A final decision, he said, would come from Arab foreign ministers and the Palestinian Liberation Organization’s leadership.
Israeli government officials had no immediate reaction to Clinton’s announcement.
An attempt last month to resume indirect talks fizzled when Israel announced a new Jewish housing project in east Jerusalem, which the Palestinians claim as a future capital. That drew fierce criticism from the United States and led to the worst rift in decades between Washington and its chief Mideast ally.
Since then, the Obama administration has sought to repair the damage with a series of recent meetings and speeches from senior officials.
“The Middle East will never realize its full potential, Israel will never be truly secure, the Palestinians will never have their legitimate aspiration for a state, unless we create the circumstances in which positive negotiations can occur,” Clinton said.