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Israel Shows US Envoy No Signs of Compromise on Settlements


Israel is giving U.S. special envoy George Mitchell no signs it will compromise on its policy of expanding settlements in the West Bank. Mitchell - who has been pressing Washington's demand for a settlement freeze - will meet again with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu after talks Tuesday made no apparent progress.

The U.S. special envoy for the Middle East and the Israeli prime minister went into a two-hour meeting Tuesday, saying they hoped for progress in ending the stalemate that has pushed relations between Washington and Israel to a low point.

Mitchell indicated he wants to reach an agreement with the Israelis to halt settlement construction during this visit, which started on Saturday.

"We hope to bring this phase of our discussion to an early conclusion and to move forward in our common search for comprehensive peace in the region," said Mitchell.

Mark Regev, a spokesman for the Israeli prime minister's office, told VOA the two-hour conversation was - in his words - good, but there were no signs of a breakthrough.

"We're trying to achieve a package that will allow the restarting of the peace talks. A package where both Israel and the Palestinians, and the Arab side take steps that will allow restarting political talks between Israel and the Arab states, [and] Israel and the Palestinians. That's the goal. And we're hopeful that it's possible to do so," Regev said.

Israeli officials have said they might consider limiting some construction on the settlements, but not stopping it altogether. The Palestinians demand a total freeze.

A second, previously unscheduled meeting was set for Wednesday between Mitchell and Mr. Netanyahu.

With no concessions from Israel in hand, Mitchell traveled to the West Bank late Tuesday to see Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who Mitchell hopes will join Mr. Netanyahu and U.S. President Barack Obama for talks on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly next week.

A meeting in New York could be a first step toward resuming stalled negotiations.

The Palestinians have said they will not reopen talks until Israel stops building on its settlements in the West Bank, but aides to Mr. Abbas say he may still meet with Mr. Netanyahu in New York.

Israel angered Washington last week, when Defense Minister Ehud Barak approved building permits for 455 new homes in settlements.

A day before meeting with Mitchell, Mr. Netanyahu said Israel will proceed with existing plans to build 3,000 homes in the West Bank. He said his government would not stop the expansion of Jewish neighborhoods in traditionally Arab East Jerusalem, which Israel annexed in a move that has never been recognized by the international community.

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