U.S. President Barack Obama's point man in the Middle East is making rare progress on his latest peace mission.
U.S. envoy George Mitchell has won Israeli and Palestinian approval for indirect peace talks, breaking a stalemate of more than a year. Mitchell met in Jerusalem with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who gave a green light for the talks which will last for a period of four months.
Government spokesman Mark Regev says Israel prefers direct talks, but indirect, or "proximity" talks, are a step forward. "It is good for the process. Obviously, proximity talks are not direct talks, it is less good, but we see it as a corridor to moving forward and we are hopeful that this process will gain momentum," he said.
The Palestinians had made a complete freeze on Jewish settlement construction a precondition for resuming negotiations, and when Israel refused, the peace process deadlocked. But the United States' proposal of indirect talks provided a way out of the impasse.
In the West Bank, the Palestinian Authority also endorsed the new talks. Palestinian official Yasser Abed Rabbo said the negotiations will focus on security issues and the future borders of a Palestinian state.
Mitchell will discuss the issue Monday with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in the West Bank town of Ramallah. U.S. Vice President Joe Biden is also due in the region Monday to build support for the peace talks and to discuss another festering problem-Iran's nuclear program.