WASHINGTON: US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will attend a second round of peace talks between the Israeli and Palestinian leaders later this month in the Egyptian Red Sea resort of Sharm El-Sheikh, a State Department official said Sunday.
After the Sept. 14 talks between Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas, Clinton will head on to Jerusalem for further discussions the following day, the official said.
"Secretary Clinton will be joined in these negotiations by Special Envoy for Middle East Peace Senator George Mitchell," the official added.
Abbas and Netanyahu relaunched direct peace talks at a Washington summit last Thursday after a 20-month hiatus, but the negotiations will face a major test later this month when an Israeli settlement moratorium expires.
The Palestinians have insisted that if Israel does not renew the partial freeze on settlement construction in the occupied West Bank when it expires on Sept. 26 the peace process will come to an end.
On Sunday, Israel’s hard-line Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman said that his party will try to block any extension of Israel’s settlement slowdown. He said the Israeli government must keep its explicit promise to voters that the 10-month slowdown, declared under US pressure in order to draw the Palestinians to the negotiating table, will end as scheduled at the end of September.
Netanyahu has yet to say how he will handle the deadline.
Negotiations are due to be held every two weeks in the hope of meeting US President Barack Obama’s deadline of achieving a landmark peace deal within a year.
In opening some four hours of talks in Washington last Thursday, Clinton acknowledged the "suspicion and skepticism" leading up to the meetings after scores of previous US administrations tried and failed to help resolve the decades-old Middle East conflict.
Before the talks began, Netanyahu told Abbas that recognizing his country as a Jewish state and ensuring its security were required before a broader agreement could be sealed.
But recognizing Israel as the Jewish homeland would be a difficult political proposition for Abbas, as it could undermine the right-of-return claims of Palestinian refugees who left or fled the land when Israel was created in 1948.
Abbas for his part, stuck to his demands that the Israeli government move forward to end all settlement activity and completely lift the embargo over the Gaza Strip.
Israel tightly controls access and egress from the Hamas-run Gaza Strip.
The last direct peace talks ended in December 2008, when Israeli forces invaded Gaza to halt Hamas rocket fire on Israel.