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US Envoy Fails to Convince Palestinians to Return to Negotiations

Palestinian leaders say they will not return to negotiations unless Israel freezes construction on Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank.

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U.S. envoy George Mitchell has failed to convince Palestinian leaders to return to negotiations with Israel.   Talks have been stalled for more than a year and Mitchell is in the region urging both sides to take steps to get negotiations going again. 

For President Barack Obama's special envoy for Middle East peace, George Mitchell, it was another frustrating visit. 

He met with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in the West Bank town of Ramallah Friday for several hours, and left with no commitment from the Palestinians on returning to talks.  Mitchell did not speak to reporters.  News of his failure to convince them to resume negotiations came from chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat.

Mr. Erekat said President Obama has been pushing for a final agreement, something he says the Palestinians also want.  He said Mitchell called on Palestinian officials to restart negotiations, and he said Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also wants a resumption of talks.  But, Erekat said, this is where the disagreement is.  He said the Palestinians want negotiations based on where talks with the previous Israeli administration left off.

Palestinian leaders say they will not return to negotiations unless Israel freezes construction on Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank. 

Israel has called a partial, temporary freeze and says it wants negotiations without preconditions.

The Palestinians and the former administration under Prime Minister Ehud Olmert held talks, and Mr. Olmert has since said both sides came close to reaching an agreement.

Prime Minister Netanyahu, who took office last year, has criticized the Palestinians for adding what he says are new conditions that they had never put before. 

The Palestinians accuse Israel of hampering their plans for a future state by continuing to build on settlements that sit on lands in the West Bank that were captured by Israel during the 1967 Arab-Israeli war.  Israel has never annexed the West Bank, but successive governments have encouraged hundreds of thousands of Israelis to move there.

The Palestinians also want an end to Israeli construction in East Jerusalem, which they claim as the capital of their future state.

Mr. Mitchell has made numerous trips to the region since President Obama took office a year ago, hoping to bridge differences and get both sides back to the table. 

The latest visit came as pessimism grows over the future of the peace process.  Mitchell's meeting with Palestinian officials on Friday happened a day after Time magazine published an interview that quoted President Obama as saying his administration overestimated its ability to persuade Israel and the Palestinians to engage in a meaningful conversation.

He told the magazine that if his administration had anticipated some of the political problems, it might not have raised expectations as high as it did.

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