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U.S. backs biweekly Mideast summits

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WASHINGTON – The Obama administration is backing a proposal by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that he and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas meet every two weeks during peace talks.

“Prime Minister Netanyahu has stated privately and publicly that he hopes to meet with President Abbas every two weeks,” George Mitchell, the senior administration official brokering talks, said in a briefing Tuesday, two days before the formal start of direct talks. “We think that is a sensible approach.”

Abbas has not yet said whether he will commit to such intensive talks. Netanyahu and Abbas were scheduled to meet on Thursday for their first direct meeting brokered by U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, which is set to last three hours.

The sides have yet to set the parameters for talks; U.S. officials were in intensive efforts Tuesday to peg them down by Thursday.

“We want to see not just a successful process going forward but an understanding that we will be going forward,” P.J. Crowley, the State Department spokesman, said in a separate briefing.

Mitchell said the United States planned to be “actively involved” in the process but would not be present at every meeting.

“The United States will play an active and sustained role in the process,” he said. “That does not mean that the United States must be physically represented in every single meeting.”

U.S. officials said they would insist that Netanyahu address settlements during the meetings and consider extending the 10-month partial moratorium he imposed on settlement expansion that lapses Sept. 26.

Abbas has said he will walk out if Netanyahu does not sustain the moratorium. Netanyahu is under pressure from hard-liners in his cabinet to restart building.

In his briefing, Mitchell held out the possibility that Hamas, the terrorist group that controls the Gaza Strip and sees Abbas’ government as illegitimate, might yet join the talks.

“We do not expect Hamas to play a role in this immediate process, but as Secretary of State Clinton and I have said publicly many times in the Middle East and the United States, we welcome the full participation by Hamas and all relevant parties once they comply with the basic requirements of democracy and nonviolence that are a prerequisite,” he said.

Mitchell, who successfully steered Northern Ireland talks in the 1990s, noted that talks were under way for 15 months before Sinn Fein, the Irish Republican Army’s political arm, reversed policy and agreed to similar terms.

A Hamas leader, however, insisted that violence was the only path forward for the Palestinians.

“As a Palestinian leader, I tell my people that the Palestinian state and Palestinian rights will not be accomplished through this peace process,” Khaled Meshaal, who is based in Damascus, told a Huffington Post blogger in an interview. “But it will be accomplished by force, and it will be accomplished by resistance.”

Meshaal confirmed that his officials have been in indirect talks with American officials.

“We know very well that some non-U.S. officials we meet with report to the administration,” he said. “We are interested in meeting with the Americans and the West, but we do not beg for these meetings and we are not in a hurry.”


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Israel launching drive to void Goldstone Report

WASHINGTON – Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Israel would launch an international campaign to cancel the Goldstone Report after its author, ex-South African Judge Richard Goldstone, wrote in an Op-Ed in the Washington Post that Israel did not intentionally target civilians as a policy during the Gaza War, withdrawing a critical allegation in the report.

Netanyahu said he had asked his security adviser, Ya’akov Amidror, to establish a committee focused on “minimizing the damage caused” by the report.


Facebook and Zuckerberg does an about-face and deletes Palestinian page calling for a Third Intifada

Following widespread criticism, a Facebook page calling for a third Palestinian intifada against Israel was removed on March 29. On the Facebook page, Palestinians were urged to launch street protests following Friday May 15 and begin an uprising as modelled by similar uprisings in Tunisia, Egypt, Morocco, and Jordan. Killing Jews en masse was emphasized.

According to the Facebook page, “Judgment Day will be brought upon us only once the Muslims have killed all of the Jews.” The page had more than 340,000 fans. However, even while the page was removed, a new page now exists in its place with the same name,  “Third Palestinian Intifada.”


Did heated rhetoric play role in shooting of Giffords?

WASHINGTON – The 8th District in southern Arizona represented by U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords comprises liberal Tucson and its rural hinterlands, which means moderation is a must. But it also means that spirits and tensions run high.

Giffords’ office in Tucson was ransacked in March following her vote for health care reform — a vote the Democrat told reporters that she would cast even if it meant her career. She refused to be cowed, but she also took aim at the hyped rhetoric. She cast the back-and-forth as part of the democratic process.

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