Saturday, 4 July 2009

New York Times today

July 4, 2009

Israel and U.S. to Hold Second Meeting

JERUSALEM — The Israeli defense minister, Ehud Barak, and George J. Mitchell, the Obama administration’s Middle East envoy, will confer Monday for the second time in a week to pursue regional peace efforts, a senior Israeli official said Friday.

The two met for four hours in New York on Tuesday. The meeting on Monday is to take place in London.

There has been tension for several months because the United States has been asking for a total freeze in building Israeli West Bank settlements, partly as a means of confidence-building with the Arab world. Israel rejected the request, saying it was inhumane to the settlers and insufficiently important to the conflict.

But Mr. Barak, who is the leader of Israel’s Labor Party and to the left of most of the rest of the government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, has been trying to bridge the gap. He told Mr. Mitchell on Tuesday that Israel could accept a freeze of three to six months on new building in all settlements outside Jerusalem if it were part of a broader endeavor that included a Palestinian promise to seek an end to the conflict as well as reciprocal steps from the Arab world.

Those steps would probably include permitting Israeli airplanes to fly in Arab airspace and establishing limited ties. Mr. Netanyahu has authorized Mr. Barak to put forward the plan but is waiting to see what he gets in return before offering any public endorsement, the official said.

The senior Israeli official noted that the joint statement after the meeting in New York did not include any reference to freezing settlements, calling it a sign that the two sides were working in a broader framework and saying that Mr. Barak was making progress in putting the settlement question into a context that Israel considered appropriate.

“We will bring more detail on the settlements and on our approach to addressing two states, and they will bring what they expect to get from the Arab world, meaning measures of normalization, and from the Palestinian side steps on security and moves to end incitement,” he said.

Copyright 2009 The New York Times Company

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