Special Envoy for Middle East Peace George Mitchell is concluding his sixth round of talks this week, which have included meetings with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, Arab League Secretary General Amr Moussa, Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahayan, Qatari Prime Minister Sheik Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani and French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner. Plans for proximity talks were announced in March, but the first round did not begin until May 9 due to contention over Israeli settlement expansion in East Jerusalem. The discussions, which are being held in private, are focused on reconciling the goals of the Israelis and Palestinians. The Israeli government would like to use the discussions as a stepping stone to direct talks while the Palestinian Authority (PA) wants to make sufficient progress on security and borders as a means of assessing Israel’s seriousness before entering into direct talks.
Additional Administration Diplomatic and Security Efforts
In May, President Obama asked Congress to approve $205 million for Israel’s Iron Dome system. Additionally, among other defense cooperation efforts, the United States continues to ensure Israel’s Qualitative Military Edge; it provided Israel with $2.775 billion per year in security assistance in FY 2010; and recently concluded a 1,000 person joint military exercise, the largest ever between the countries.
Following the raid on the Mavi Marmara, the lead ship in the six-vessel flotilla attempting to break the maritime closure of the Gaza Strip, President Obama supported a United Nations Security Council statement on June 1 which condemned the actions aboard the flotilla and called for an impartial investigation. Obama described the Gaza situation and broader conflict as unsustainable in the long-term. On June 14, the White House declared its support for an internal Israeli investigation into the flotilla incident. Israel responded to mounting international pressure by easing the blockade on June 20, a move applauded by the United States. Details of the plan were publicized on July 5, coinciding with a meeting between Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak and PA Prime Minister Salam Fayyad.
President Abbas visited the White House on June 9. Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak met with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on June 23 and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met with Obama in Washington on July 6, his fifth visit during the Obama administration. On July 8, Obama sat for an interview with Israel’s Channel 2 television network and on July 9, Obama spoke with Abbas on the phone about the situation in the region.
The Obama administration works in close coordination with the international community and the Office of the Quartet Representative to support the institution-building work of the PA. Examples of this work include:
Economic Sector: The United States provided financial, organizational and promotional support for the June 2-3 Palestine Investment Conference (PIC), which culminated with France, Italy and the United States pledging a combined $655 million for institution building in the West Bank. In addition, during Abbas’ White House visit, the United States announced $400 million to the PA for housing, education and infrastructure in the Gaza Strip and West Bank. Two-hundred and forty million dollars of this amount is allocated for the creation of a landmark affordable mortgage finance facility which will double the number of Palestinians able to purchase homes.
Security Sector: The United States continues to coordinate with Britain, Canada and Jordan in training Palestinian security forces; five battalions have already deployed in major West Bank cities. The United States is also supporting ongoing efforts to build and upgrade PA training centers and other installations, and assisting the PA Interior Ministry with strategic security planning.
Governance: The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) supports ongoing projects that promote democracy and governance in the Palestinian territories. On June 2, USAID pledged $25 million to facilitate PA efforts to develop a legislative and regulatory framework to promote investment and commerce.
Movement and Access: In May, USAID gave authority over three reconstructed roads to the PA. Reconstruction cost $5.7 million and included work on the Atarah-Ramallah road, which connects the northern West Bank to Ramallah. USAID and Special Envoy for Middle East Peace George Mitchell are continuing to work with the Israeli Ministry of Defense to improve movement and access at checkpoints and border crossings.
- In addition to previously mentioned visits by Israeli and Palestinian officials, heads of state from Bahrain, Kuwait, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Tunisia and Turkey also visited Washington to discuss regional and bilateral issues.
- Vice President Joseph R. Biden visited Egypt on June 6 to discuss new ways forward on the Gaza blockade. The next day Egypt declared that it would keep its Rafah checkpoint open indefinitely to allow eligible Gazans to cross the border.
- Robert Ford’s confirmation to be the first U.S. ambassador to Syria since the assassination of Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri in 2005 was delayed because of speculation that Syria provided Hezbollah with long-range Scud missiles. Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman John Kerry visited Damascus on May 23 to discuss these concerns. In early July, Senator Arlen Specter (D-PA) met with Syrian President Bashar Assad in Damascus. Ynet reported that Specter delivered a message from Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon to Assad during his visit.