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US, Israeli Officials Make Progress in Dispute Over Settlements


U.S. Middle East Special Envoy George Mitchell and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu say they have made progress in their dispute over Jewish settlements. Mitchell has left Israel after a visit aimed at getting Israelis and Palestinians to restart negotiations.

There was no sign of a breakthrough after a meeting in Jerusalem between U.S. envoy George Mitchell and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Both said they had made some progress on the thorniest of the issues: Israel's insistence on allowing the expansion of Jewish settlements that are built on land claimed by the Palestinians.

The Obama administration says freezing settlements will help peace prospects. The Palestinians say they will not return to negotiations until Israel freezes its settlements.

Mitchell gave no details of what he discussed with Mr. Netanyahu. He indicated the United States will continue its efforts for peace.

"President Obama's vision is of a comprehensive peace in the Middle East which includes peace between Israel and Palestinians, between Syria and Israel and between Israel and Lebanon, and also the full normalization of relations between Israel and all of its neighbors in the region," he said.

Mr. Netanyahu said his government will keep working to reach common ground with the U.S. administration.

"We are making progress towards achieving an understanding that would enable us to continue and in fact complete a peace process that would be established between us and our Palestinian neighbors and ultimately the entire region," he said.

The U.S. opposition to settlement expansion has put it at odds with Israel. Mr. Netanyahu says construction in the settlements - home to about 300,000 Israelis - should continue to allow for natural growth.

Mitchell sought to reassure Israeli officials, saying the United States and Israel, despite their differences, remain friends and allies.

Hebrew University politics professor Abraham Diskin says the Obama administration's determination to put the peace process back on track is clear. But he says it remains to be seen how effective the effort will be.

"I think that the Americans are really doing their utmost," said Diskin. "They could not have done more than they do. The visits of so many top people in the administration since the beginning of the year proves that. The chances are not very high, so it really does not depend on the Americans. It really depends on the Arab side, also on the Israeli side. I do not know that it is failing, but the chances are not very high."

Other U.S. officials visiting Israel this week include Defense Secretary Robert Gates who met Monday with Israeli leaders, U.S. National Security Adviser Jim Jones who is to meet Wednesday with Israeli and Palestinian officials, and Obama advisor Dennis Ross.

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