The delegations will be headed by Israeli prime minister's adviser Yitzhak Molcho and senior Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat. debkafile's Middle East sources disclose that Special US Middle East Envoy George Mitchell notified Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority chairman Mahmoud Abbas Monday, March 8, that his mission on behalf of president Barack Obama was to get direct peace talks started without delay at a venue near Washington. The US president, he said, was out of patience with the two sides' objections, gripes and maneuvers.
According to our Washington sources, administration officials were charged with finding a location around the US capital isolated enough for Israel and Israeli negotiators to talk in private. They recommended the 11th Wing's facility at Bolling Air Force base, which best answered the White House's request for a venue where the Israeli and Palestinian delegations could be kept out of reach of US, Israeli and Palestinian media, so that Mitchell could act as the negotiations sole spokesman.
The US envoy's immediate plan now is to ensconce the two delegations for a couple of days in separate rooms at a place in Israel still to be selected to preserve the semblance of indirect talks. After that, they will be transferred to Washington early next week.
debkafile's sources stress that the reports leaked from Israeli and Palestinian quarters about the subjects of the talks are irrelevant because the US envoy is still pondering the agenda and has not yet decided where it will start.
Our sources disclose that the Palestinians spent most of Monday finding ways to clamp their delegation's wheels because the Fatah doest not trust Erekat enough to give him a free hand. His opponents finally established a "national committee" to monitor his decisions at the negotiating table. Its members are Jibril Rajoub, Muhammad Dahlan and Nasser al Kidwa.
The Palestinian team will therefore operate under the close scrutiny of two commissions, one Palestinian, the other appointed by the Arab League.
The Israeli prime minister and defense minister Ehud Barak both warned Mitchell against Abbas' plan to attach representatives of Palestinian terrorist groups to the monitoring commission, including the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine and Damascus-based extremist groups, all of whom are determined to derail the US peace initiative.