JERUSALEM (Oct. 29)
In the wake of American pressure, Foreign Minister David Levy is expected to leave for Washington over the weekend for talks aimed at advancing the peace process.
His trip was planned Wednesday after the government gave him the green light to discuss all issues on the agenda with the Palestinians.
Levy is due to meet next week with U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and Mahmoud Abbas, also known as Abu Mazen, who is second-in-command to Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat.
The discussions were expected to have begun this week.
But Levy, who has complained about being left out of the decision-making on foreign policy issues, announced Sunday that he would delay his departure until he was given a clear mandate on what he could discuss.
The delay provoked a critical reaction from U.S. State Department spokesman James Rubin, who said Monday that Washington “would like the internal deliberations to conclude” so that the talks can proceed “as soon as possible” — an unusual jab at Israel’s policy-making processes.
Albright told reporters Tuesday that she had talked with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu by telephone “about the necessity of moving this process forward,” adding that Washington wanted “to proceed on a fairly rapid schedule.”
Netanyahu convened key ministers comprising his Inner Security Cabinet on Wednesday to determine Israel’s position in the negotiations.
A statement released after the six-hour meeting said Israel intended to continue its efforts to advance to the permanent-status negotiations — and that further discussions would be held on the conditions needed for this to occur.
The statement also said that Israel would discuss the questions agreed upon during a recent meeting involving Albright, Levy and Abbas.
Observers said this meant that Levy was authorized to discuss issues that include further Israeli troop redeployments in the West Bank and a slowdown in settlement building.
At the same time, they noted that the mandate was limited — while Levy could discuss the idea of a slowdown, he could not necessarily go into specifics on its scope.
Palestinian officials were guarded in their responses to the Inner Cabinet decision.
Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said he was waiting to hear from Washington to know whether the Cabinet decision indeed authorized Levy to make any real concessions.