Mitchell to brief Hill Thursday

Mitchell to brief Hill Thursday

Peace envoy George Mitchell, back from his fourth trip to the Middle East, is scheduled to meet members of the House and Senate tomorrow at the State Department. Among those invited to attend, Hill sources tell The Cable: Senators John Kerry (D-MA), Carl Levin (D-MI), Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), and Robert Casey (D-PA), and House Majority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), Steny Hoyer (D-MD), Howard Berman (D-CA), Gary Ackerman (D-NY), Henry Waxman (D-CA), and possibly others. Hill sources have been urging that Mitchell get back up there to "stiffen the spine of members" to support the Obama administration’s push for a two-state solution. Mitchell is scheduled to meet with President Barack Obama and Vice President Joseph Biden at the White House Thursday afternoon.

The House-Senate Jewish caucus is also due to meet with Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman in the morning. No photos expected.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton met with Lieberman today. In her comments after their meeting, Clinton reiterated that the United States has no greater ally in the Middle East and no greater friend than Israel. But when asked by a reporter about new Israeli ambassador to Washington Michael Oren‘s apparent comments to the media that the United States was softening on its no settlements positions, Lieberman and Clinton displayed disagreements:

QUESTION: Minister Lieberman, first, Ambassador Oren, the new
ambassador to Washington, is talking about some interesting proposals on settlements. Could you elaborate on what they might be? And then for Secretary Clinton, does that mean there is some wiggle room to your statement that there should be no such settlement activity?

And finally, for both of you, did you discuss previous President
George Bush’s letters, private letters to the Israeli Government? Is
that issue over with? […]

FOREIGN MINISTER LIEBERMAN: Three questions, yeah. First of all, we really don’t have any intention to change the demographic balance in Judea and Samaria. But we think that, you know, as – in every place around the world, baby are born (inaudible), people get married, some pass away. And we cannot accept – we cannot accept this vision about absolutely completely freezing call for our settlements. I think that we must keep the natural growth. Prime minister spoke about this in his speech. I think that this position, it’s – this view, this approach, it’s very clear.

And also, we had some understandings with the previous administration and we tried to keep this direction. And we are, of course, ready for immediately direct talks with the Palestinians.

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, as President Obama, Senator Mitchell and I have said, we want to see a stop to the settlements. We think that is an important and essential part of pursuing the efforts leading to a comprehensive peace agreement and the creation of a Palestinian state next to a Israeli-Jewish state that is secure in its borders and future. We believe that this process which Senator Mitchell is quarterbacking for us has just begun. There are a number of critical concerns, many of which overlap in their impact and significance, that will be explored in the coming weeks as Senator Mitchell engages more deeply into the specifics as to where the Israelis and the Palestinians are willing to go together.

(Clinton later broke her elbow Wednesday, on the way to a meeting at the White House, Reuters reports.)

Mitchell is due to meet with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Paris next week. One question: how much of a settlement freeze, or the appearance of one, does Mitchell need to get from Netanyahu in order for the Arab states to show some meaningful reciprocity? And how much are Netanyahu and his envoys trying to signal audiences in Washington and Israel that they have leeway from Washington instead for business as usual?