Mid East talks resume January. Netanyahu relents on building freeze

Direct Israeli-Palestinian talks, interrupted in September after less than a week, will resume in January, 2011 straight after the New Year, following a quiet deal between the US, Israel, Egypt and Saudi Arabia, debkafile's Washington sources disclose. Obama administration officials while admitting that two months is a long time in the Middle East are upbeat after four developments swept aside the last roadblocks:

1. Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu agreed to a second settlement construction freeze on a limited scale. The first 10-month moratorium ran out in September.
Washington sources declined to say whether the second freeze was total or partial and what exceptions were allowed to enable Netanyahu to get a decision through his security cabinet.
2.  Saudi King Abdullah and Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak put their weight behind persuading Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas to return to the negotiating table with Israel as his only option. They told to cancel all plans for UN Security Council recognition of a unilateral declaration of Palestinian statehood within -re-1967 boundaries. The PA chairman has complied with their demands.
3.  In the two months before the talks resume, Abbas agreed to join the Saudi-Egyptian effort to patch up the quarrel between his Fatah and the Hams extremists with a view to signing a reconciliation accord by early January so that the Palestinians would be represented by a unified West Bank-Gaza Strip delegation.
Abbas has taken the first step of withdrawing from the Fatah-Hamas talks which began last month in Damascus under the Syrian aegis.
4.  A high-ranking US official will shuttle between Jerusalem and Ramallah in the weeks remaining up to January to make sure the Israelis and Palestinians stick to the deal and don't change their minds. debkafile's Washington sources report that President Barack Obama has not yet decided to whom to assign the task, but Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is a favorite.
5.  The one official who will not longer be seen on the Israel-Palestinian peace track is George Mitchell. He secretly resigned as Presidential Special Envoy last month but agreed to delay the announcement until his successor is in place. 

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