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US Mideast Envoy Begins New Push to Restart Peace Talks


US Mideast envoy George Mitchell (File)

US Mideast envoy George Mitchell (File)

U.S. special Mideast envoy George Mitchell arrived in Israel as part of the Obama administration's efforts to revive Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations.

The U.S. envoy's visit comes a week after the Obama administration dropped its demand for Israel to stop construction of Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank.

The demand had created a rift in relations between the two allies. Hours before meeting with Mitchell, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu indicated the atmosphere would be warmer during this visit.

The Israeli leader welcomed the U.S. decision last week to look for a different approach.

Mr. Netanyahu said he is pleased that - in his words - the United States finally understands it conducted a year of dead-end talks, in discussions on what he said are unimportant subjects like settlement expansion. He said he believes the United States now understands that the most important thing is for all sides to discuss the most important elements.

The United States wants both sides to focus on what it says are the core issues of the conflict, including the borders of what would be a future Palestinian state.

Direct talks began on September 2nd but collapsed a few weeks later when Israel allowed a self-imposed settlement construction freeze to expire. The Palestinians said they would not negotiate unless the Jewish state extended that freeze.

The Palestinians condemned Washington's decision to drop its demand for an extended freeze. But analysts questioned whether any substantial progress could have been made within a span of a 90-day freeze that Washington had requested, and said the Obama administration's move could actually push the process along.

After meeting with Israeli leaders, Mitchell is due to hold talks Tuesday with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in the West Bank.

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