Mitchell in Israel, Biden on way


JERUSALEM (JTA) — U.S. Middle East peace envoy  George Mitchell began meeting with Israeli officials as the Palestinian leadership agreed to begin U.S.-brokered indirect peace talks.

The Palestine Liberation Organization executive committee agreed Sunday to enter into the proximity talks, which are scheduled to last four months. The approval comes on the heels of last week’s approval by the Arab League for limited indirect talks.

U.S. Vice President Joseph Biden was set to arrive Monday in Israel. Biden, the highest-ranking of several U.S. officials to visit Israel in the past couple of months, will address the Israeli people directly during a speech at Tel Aviv University. He also is scheduled to visit Ramallah, Jordan and Egypt, according to Politico.

Iran will be an important issue on Biden’s agenda during talks with Israeli leaders, and he is expected to demand that Israel’s government not strike at Iran’s nuclear sites before new sanctions have a chance to take hold and not without U.S. approval.

Mitchell arrived Saturday night in Israel and met for nearly two hours with Defense Minister Ehud Barak. Mitchell was set to meet with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday and with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas on Monday.

Mitchell plans to announce the start of the indirect talks Monday night, Haaretz reported. 

Meanwhile, an internal Israeli Foreign Ministry report distributed to Israeli diplomatic missions said that the U.S. administration will not expend much effort on the proximity talks, focusing instead on November’s congressional elections, Haaretz reported Sunday.

The report also said that the Obama administration has adopted positions for the talks that are closer to Palestinian demands, according to Haaretz.

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