Senior US diplomat heads to Israel, West Bank
WASHINGTON - US Deputy Secretary of State William Burns will travel to Israel and the West Bank this week as part of a Middle East tour that also included stops in Egypt and Yemen, a US official said Monday.
Burns is due to meet with Palestinian President Mahmud Abbas and Prime Minister Salam Fayyad during his stay, as well as with senior Israeli officials, State Department spokesman Patrick Ventrell told reporters.
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is due in Israel on July 16 and 17. It was not immediately clear whether she will travel to the Palestinian territories.
Clinton said she held "candid and productive" talks with Abbas in Paris on Friday as all sides seek a way to kick-start moribund Middle East peace talks.
The Clinton-Abbas encounter came as peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians remain on deep freeze, with the last direct negotiations grinding to a halt in September 2010 over the issue of Jewish settlement construction.
The Palestinians have said they will not return to negotiations without a new Israeli freeze on settlement construction in the occupied West Bank and east Jerusalem.
They also want Israel to accept the lines that existed before the 1967 Six-Day War as the basis for negotiations on future borders, and they are seeking the release of 123 Palestinians held by Israel since before the 1993 autonomy accords.
Abbas says Israel previously agreed to release those prisoners but has not fulfilled its commitment.
Israeli media said Monday that a report commissioned by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and written by three top jurists recommends the government legalize outpost settlements established without permits.
The panel's findings were submitted to the ministerial committee on settlements on Sunday.
When asked to comment, Ventrell said: "The US position on settlements is clear... we do not accept the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlement activity and we oppose any effort to legalize settlement outposts."