U.S. backing biweekly Netanyahu-Abbas summits

WASHINGTON (JTA) — The Obama administration is backing a proposal by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that he and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas meet every two weeks during peace talks.

"Prime Minister Netanyahu has stated privately and publicly that he hopes to meet with President Abbas every two weeks," George Mitchell, the senior administration official brokering talks, said in a briefing Tuesday, two days before the formal start of direct talks. "We think that is a sensible approach."

Abbas has not yet said whether he will commit to such intensive talks. Netanyahu and Abbas meet Thursday for their first direct meeting brokered by U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, which is set to last three hours.

The sides have yet to set the parameters for talks; U.S. officials were in intensive efforts Tuesday to peg them down by Thursday.

"We want to see not just a successful process going forward but an understanding that we will be going forward," P.J. Crowley, the State Department spokesman, said in a separate briefing.

Mitchell said the United States planned to be "actively involved" in the process but would not be present at every meeting.

"The United States will play an active and sustained role in the process," he said. "That does not mean that the United States must be physically represented in every single meeting."

U.S. officials said they would insist that Netanyahu address settlements during the meetings and consider extending the 10-month partial moratorium he imposed on settlement expansion that lapses Sept. 26.

Abbas has said he will walk out if Netanyahu does not sustain the moratorium. Netanyahu is under pressure from hard-liners in his Cabinet to restart building.

In his briefing, Mitchell held out the possibility that Hamas, the terrorist group that controls the Gaza Strip and sees Abbas’ government as illegitimate, might yet join the talks.

"We do not expect Hamas to play a role in this immediate process, but as Secretary of State Clinton and I have said publicly many times in the Middle East and the United States, we welcome the full participation by Hamas and all relevant parties once they comply with the basic requirements of democracy and nonviolence that are a prerequisite," he said.

Mitchell, who successfully steered Northern Ireland talks in the 1990s, noted that talks were under way for 15 months before Sinn Fein, the Irish Republican Army’s political arm, reversed policy and agreed to similar terms.

A Hamas leader however insisted that violence was the only path forward for the Palestinians.

"As a Palestinian leader, I tell my people that the Palestinian state and Palestinian rights will not be accomplished through this peace process," Khaled Meshaal, who is based in Damascus, told a sympathetic Huffington Post blogger in an interview. "But it will be accomplished by force, and it will be accomplished by resistance."

Meshaal confirmed that his officials have been in indirect talks with American officials.

"We know very well that some non-U.S. officials we meet with report to the administration," he said. "We are interested in meeting with the Americans and the West, but we do not beg for these meetings and we are not in a hurry."

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