Real progress expected amid U.S. special envoy's Mideast visit

19:20, April 23, 2010      

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The U.S. special envoy George Mitchell is slated to meet with Israeli and Palestinian leaders on Friday, in a fresh effort to push forward the long-stalled Middle East peace process.

Israeli officials said "real progress" could be expected to see during Mitchell's visit in regard with the resumption of peace talks, most probably indirect ones, between Israel and the Palestinians.

SURPRISING VISIT

Mitchell met with Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak Friday morning and is scheduled to hold talks with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the afternoon, before travelling to the West Bank to meet Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas.

Mitchell's visit, which comes several days earlier before original schedule, was a surprise to many.

Sources in Israeli government told Xinhua that before his arrival, only a handful of Israeli officials were informed about the visit and even some senior government ministers, including cabinet members, were not told about it beforehand.

The two allies were in a feud when an Israeli regional building community approved a housing plan in the Jewish community Ramat Shlomo in East Jerusalem in March. The U.S. administration sharply condemned the Israeli decision, which put the proximity talks between Israel and the Palestinians at the brink of breaking down.

U.S. President Barack Obama has reportedly presented Netanyahu, during their meeting in Washington last month, with a document that contained 12 demands to Israel, which are viewed as goodwill gestures to reignite the stalled Israeli-Palestinian peace talks. One of the main demands is to freeze building projects in East Jerusalem for a period of several months.

Sources of the prime minister's office confirmed to Xinhua on condition of anonymity on Thursday that a negative response to the Jerusalem construction issue has already been relayed to Washington, while deliberations over the remaining demands still continue.

Affirming Israel's position, Netanyahu said on Thursday in an interview with Israel TV Channel 2 that "there will be no freeze in Jerusalem."

However, the full Israeli response to the U.S. was kept secret in order to prevent potential damage to the peace process, said a source close to the Israeli "forum of seven ministers," an inner cabinet.

REAL PROGRESS EXPECTED

Mitchell's visit attests to the fact that discussions on the matter continued behind closed doors all along.

A senior source in Israeli government, who declined to be named, remarked just prior to Mitchell's arrival that "Mitchell isn't coming for nothing. He's coming because there's real progress in the possibility to renew negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians."

The source, however, declined to comment on the nature of the progress he mentioned.

Israeli local media on Friday quoted unnamed governmental officials as saying that Israel is expected to announce a number of goodwill gestures, including the release of prisoners, the removal of roadblocks and checkpoints in the West Bank.

The sources told local news service Ynet that it is of great possibility that Mitchell could announce the launch of Israeli- Palestinian proximity talks during the visit.

It is unclear so far whether Mitchell could successfully boost the peace process in the end of the visit, especially with the Jerusalem issue still the crux of the process.

Israel argues that Jerusalem is its "indivisible" capital, while the international community views east part of the city, which Israel captured in 1967 and later annexed, as occupied territory.

The Palestinians have insisted not resuming direct negotiations before the complete cessation of Israel's construction in Jewish settlements in the West Bank as well as in the East Jerusalem, where the Palestinians see as the capital of their future statehood.

Although some goodwill measures could be well contained in Netanyahu's letter to Obama, the trouble, in the eyes of analysts, is that any goodwill gestures will likely to be overshadowed by Israel's refusal to budge on Jerusalem.

Source: Xinhua

(Editor:王千原雪)

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