Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Special Envoy George Mitchell in a trilateral meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in the Secretary’s Office on Thursday. (PHOTO CREDIT: State Department Official Photograph)
Washington (CNN) – President Obama's Middle East peace initiative this week has led to promises of a second round of negotiations on September 14-15, but CNN has learned that Israeli and Palestinian officials are also privately discussing the possibility of a third round of talks as early as later this month.
Two senior officials close to the talks said Israeli and Palestinian negotiators are already discussing a possible third round of talks because both sides are concerned about the impact of Israel's 10-month moratorium on Jewish settlement construction in the West Bank that expires on September 26th.
The goal is to pick up some momentum coming out of the September 14-15 talks, which Obama's Special Middle East Envoy George Mitchell announced Thursday in Washington after the first direct talks between Israeli and Palestinian officials in nearly two years.
While Mitchell did not announce a location for the second round of talks on Sept. 14, officials close to the talks have told CNN those sessions are likely to be hosted in Egypt by President Hosni Mubarak.
The point of a third round of talks coming before the September 26 moratorium expires would be to try and prevent a quick and dramatic failure so early in the process if the settlement issue boils over.
"We need as many meetings as possible to build trust," said one of the officials close to the talks.
The significance is that Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has declared that the peace negotiations will end if Israel does not extend the freeze, while Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is under great pressure from conservatives within his country who want to end the moratorium on settlement construction.
Mitchell said Thursday that Abbas and Netanyahu are planning to start meeting every two weeks to try and get a peace deal signed within one year. But that timetable means that a third round of talks would likely occur after the September 26 moratorium expires, so officials are trying to see if there is a way to meet again just a few days before then.
One possible venue for a third round of talks would be the United Nations General Assembly meetings in New York, which are scheduled to run from September 20 through September 24. Abbas and Netanyahu are expected to attend those meetings for normal business, and it's worth noting that last September Obama pulled together a trilateral meeting with Abbas and Netanyahu on the sidelines of the UN meetings.