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US Envoy Makes Last-Ditch Effort to Rescue Mideast Talks


Israel's Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu (L) welcoming US Middle East peace envoy George Mitchell before their meeting in Caesarea, 29 Sept 2010

Israel's Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu (L) welcoming US Middle East peace envoy George Mitchell before their meeting in Caesarea, 29 Sept 2010

U.S. special envoy George Mitchell is making a final effort to broker a compromise between Israel and the Palestinians before Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas decides whether to continue with talks.

Special envoy George Mitchell's aim is to convince Israel to reinstate a freeze on settlement construction - a condition that the Palestinians have placed if they are to remain in negotiations.

Mitchell met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday in Jerusalem. At the start of the meeting, he said both sides have a historic mission to continue what he described as good talks.

VOA's Paul Westpheling speaks with Jerusalem correspondent Luis Ramirez on Middle East peace talks:

"We knew this would be a road with many bumps and there have been many bumps and that continues to this day," Mitchell said. "But we are not deterred. We are, to the contrary, determined more than ever to proceed to realize the common objective, which we all share, of a Middle East that is at peace with security and prosperity for the people of Israel, for Palestinians, and for all the people in the region and we will continue our efforts in that regard, undeterred and undaunted by the difficulties, the complexities or the bumps in the road."

Neither U.S. nor Israeli officials gave any details of what transpired in the meeting.

Mitchell plans to meet with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on Thursday.

The Palestinians are threatening to quit talks if Israel does not suspend the building of new Jewish homes in the occupied West Bank. Mr. Abbas says his decision on whether to continue negotiations will come on or after Monday when he consults with Arab leaders in Cairo.

Senior Palestinian negotiator Nabil Shaath says the negotiations depend on whether the U.S. mediator can get the Israelis to stop settlement construction. He tells VOA the Palestinians cannot afford to keep talking while Israel is building in the occupied West Bank.

"While the Israelis are negotiating land for peace, they are deepening their acquisition of land through settlements," noted Shaath. "What we are asking today is not to dismantle the settlements. This will be an issue to be negotiated. We are only asking that there be no more settlements, no more deepening of the occupation while you negotiate end of occupation."

Israel says it wants to continue negotiations but without preconditions.

Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman fueled anger and suspicion among Palestinians with remarks he made this week at the United Nations where he said an agreement with the Palestinians could take decades.

Lieberman's remarks contradicted Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, who has agreed to work toward a deal within a year.

Mr. Netanyahu's office issued a statement saying the contents of the foreign minister's speech were not coordinated with the prime minister.



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