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Washington confident on move to direct talks; aid Boat in Egyptian port--Mitchell in region for talks.

--Washington Confident on Move to Direct Talks; Aid Boat in Egyptian Port

--Mitchell in Region for Talks

After Israeli threats successfully diverted the Libyan aid ship "Amalthea", originally destined for Gaza, to the Egyptian port of al-Arish, Washington again expressed "confidence" on the resumption of direct negotiations between the Israelis and the Palestinians, possibly before September, Beirut daily AN NAHAR, reported Friday. The Amalthea, which was commissioned by the Libyan-based Gaddafi foundation, was carrying more than two thousand tons of food and supplies for the besieged Gaza strip. The ship was headed off by the Israeli navy who forced it to divert its course to Egypt, keeping the naval blockade of the Gaza Strip intact.

The ship is currently being offloaded in Egypt and its contents of food and medicine will be transported to Gaza over the Rafah border crossing or the al-Ouja crossing after inspection. This is despite the continuing desire of the nine activists on board, of which six were Libyan, one Nigerian, one Algerian, and one Moroccan, to continue on to Gaza. They refused to continue to Gaza overland saying that their mission was to get there by sea.

According to AN NAHAR there was confusion on the ship up to the very end on whether or not they would continue to Gaza despite Israeli warnings. The Israeli navy said from the outset that it would not let the ship reach Gazan waters, and that it would not hesitate to use force if it continued on its path.

U.S. Confident

Meanwhile, U.S. State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said on Thursday that the United States is still "confident" that the Israelis and Palestinians will agree to a move to direct negotiations. "I think we have a strong belief, at some point in time, direct negotiations will be renewed. Whether that's days from now, weeks from now, I don't think we're in a position to say at this point," Crowley said.

Crowley continued, "This is a decision that is first and foremost up to the Israeli and Palestinian leaders. They have to make a decision, after working on the details of the process, that they have enough confidence to move into direct negotiations." The Israelis have already expressed their desire to move to direct negotiations while the Palestinians first want to see progress during indirect negotiations, especially on the issues of borders and security.


Also Thursday, U.S. Special Envoy to the Middle East George Mitchell arrived in Jerusalem, starting up a new round of indirect talks with the Israelis and Palestinians. He is being sent to the region by U.S. President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for the express purpose of convincing both sides to sit down for face-to-face for talks. He met Defense Minister Ehud Barak on Thursday evening. Mitchell is due to meet Netanyahu in Jerusalem and visit Abbas in Ramallah over the weekend. In a letter addressed to Mitchell, Palestinian chief negotiator Saeb Erekat slammed recent decisions to expand Jewish settlements in East Jerusalem and other "illegal and provocative" Israeli policies. He went on to accuse Israel of "flagrant violations" of past agreements going back to the 1990s.

But the Palestinians again on Thursday reaffirmed their opposition to direct negotiations without achieving progress first during the indirect phase. Fatah, the Palestinian movement headed by PA President Mahmoud Abbas says that the lack of progress and the lack of credibility from the Israeli side makes a move to direct talks unlikely.

Fatah spokesman Osama Qawasmi said, "The demand for and the pressure towards moving from indirect to direct negotiations without any progress on the issues of borders and security should be considered a coup against the commitments and intentions ... of the two-state solution." He added, "The lack of credibility and confidence in the Israeli proposals during indirect negotiations, which led to the lack of progress, will solidify" the Palestinian base. Qawasmi said that the concessions needed to move to direct negotiations is something that the Palestinian leadership never has accepted before and never will accept, and neither will the Palestinian people. The Palestinians suspended talks in December 2008 after Israel launched the devastating "Operation Cast Lead" against the Hamas movement's infrastructure in the Gaza strip.
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Publication:The Daily Middle East Reporter (Beirut, Lebanon)
Date:Jul 16, 2010
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