A week of U.S. diplomatic maneuvering continued Monday with special envoy George Mitchell and Defense Secretary Robert Gates visiting Israel.
Mitchell will meet with Israeli President Shimon Peres and travel to Ramallah for a face-to-face with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. He will try to downplay tensions that have erupted publicly over U.S. President Barack Obama’s demand that Israel freeze settlement in the occupied West Bank. Some 300,000 Jewish settlers live in the West Bank, a presence that Palestinian authorities say impedes peace talks. “Our governments are friends and allies,” Mitchell said Sunday after meeting with Defense Minister Ehud Barak. “These are discussions among friends, both personal and public. These are not disputes among adversaries.” For his part, Gates will meet with Barak and Netanyahu. He is expected to talk about the American strategy in dealing with Iran’s alleged nuclear program and the perceived threat it poses to Israel. On Wednesday, U.S. National Security Adviser James Jones and Special Mideast Adviser Dennis Ross will also arrive in Israel for meetings. The flurry of activity is intended to jump-start the stalled Israel-Palestinian peace process. On Sunday, Mitchell met with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad before heading to Israel and Egypt. He told journalists the talks involved not only prospects for a comprehensive regional peace agreement, but also bolstering U.S. ties with Syria. Next, he heads to Jordan to meet with King Abdullah.