In a sign that Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak and US Middle East envoy George Mitchell are making headway in their London talks over the Middle East peace effort this week, Barak told Israel's Army Radio that 23 illegal outposts will be subject to evacuation in the near future. According to the Jerusalem Post, the time frame Barak gave--of weeks or months, as opposed to years--is significant as a sign of goodwill to neighboring Arab states, with whom the United States is also involving in the process. From Jerusalem Post:
"While they are demanding from Israel steps and concessions in order to enable this regional peace effort to take off, they are approaching the Arabs as well and asking what they can contribute in terms of... starting normalization with Israel," he said. "We are looking and trying to find a formula (which) needs to show our readiness to be sensitive to the needs of others."
Barak and Mitchell issued a joint statement following the talks which, according to Haaretz, discussed the two officials' efforts to tackle a broad range of issues, including settlements, but which left some "that [still] require clarification and solutions." According to the statement, Barak and Mitchell:
"discussed the full range of issues related to Middle East peace and security and the contributions Israelis, Palestinians, their neighbors and the international community should make to this effort. Specifically, their discussions covered a wide range of measures needed to create a climate conducive to peace. These included measures on security and incitement by the Palestinians, steps by Arab states toward normalization with Israel, and, from Israel, actions on access and movement in the West Bank and on settlement activity. The discussions were constructive and will continue soon."
Mitchell is set to meet with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu next week to continue the talks, according to the Haaretz report. At issue will be Netanyahu's refusal thus far to completely freeze settlements, including their "natural growth" from births. The 2003 Road Map under the Bush administration calls for such a freeze, but it has yet to be fully followed, despite the White House's demands, according to AFP.