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US Envoy Launches New Mideast Peace Mission


As George Mitchell arrives in the region, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu mocks the Palestinians for demanding unacceptable preconditions.

U.S. President Barack Obama's point man in the Middle East is back in the region, trying to jump-start the peace process.

U.S. Envoy George Mitchell is holding separate meetings with Israeli and Palestinian leaders in a bid to revive deadlocked Middle East peace talks. The Palestinians have refused to return to the negotiating table until Israel completely freezes Jewish settlement construction and they have rejected Israel's offer of a partial freeze.

As Mitchell arrived in the region, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu mocked the Palestinians for demanding unacceptable preconditions.

"Israel has been trying to get the Palestinians to enter the negotiating tent," he said. "The Palestinians have climbed up a tree. And they like it up there. People bring ladders to them, we bring ladders to them; the higher the ladder, the higher they climb."

Netanyahu also set down a tough, new condition of his own. He said that under any peace deal, Israel would have to keep troops in the West Bank, on the border with Jordan. He said this was necessary to prevent Palestinian militants from firing rockets at Jerusalem and Israel's international airport.

"There is a way to effectively stop the infiltration of rockets and other weaponry," said the Israeli prime minister. "In the case of a future settlement with the Palestinians, this will require an Israeli presence on the eastern side of a prospective Palestinian state."

Interviewed on Israel Radio, Palestinian chief negotiator Saeb Erekat rejected the demand outright.

"It is absolutely unacceptable, absolutely unacceptable, absolutely unacceptable," he said. "The borders of the State of Palestine will be Jordan; the Jordan Valley is ours, is Palestine. Now why do they insist on being on our territory?"

This is George Mitchell's 11th peace mission since U.S. President Barack Obama took office a year ago, but he has had little success at bridging the gaps.

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