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US Mideast Envoy Makes New Push for Israel-Palestinian Agreement

U.S. Special Envoy George Mitchell has shuttled between Israel and the West Bank as part of a second round of indirect negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians.  Mitchell met with the Israeli Prime Minister as questions arise on whether an agreement is possible anytime soon.

The U.S. special envoy waded yet again into a sea of distrust that has prevented both sides from returning to direct negotiations in almost a year and a-half.  

News reports on Thursday quoted an Israeli Foreign Ministry classified document as saying the Palestinians are embarking on indirect talks, now under way, without having any faith in their outcome.

Mitchell met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Thursday.

A day earlier, the U.S. envoy met with Palestinian leaders, who complained of what they described as Israeli provocations, including invasions, arrests, and the construction of Jewish settlements in Palestinian lands occupied by Israel since the 1967 Arab-Israeli war.

Palestinian chief negotiator Saeb Erekat, speaking this week as Mitchell visited the West Bank, said the Palestinians are nonetheless willing to proceed with negotiations.  "We are talking and focusing on borders and security.  We hope that in the next four months we can achieve the two-state solution on the 1967 borders," he said.

Many Palestinians consider President Obama's administration to be more favorable to them than previous U.S. administrations. They hope that U.S. pressure will get Israel to make concessions.

Yaacov Bar-Simantov is a politics professor at Hebrew University who has written extensively on the peace process.

"They realize now, especially because of Obama, [is] that the only way to reach an agreement is now via Washington," he said.

"It means that the only power that can bring the sides to some kind of agreement is the United States.  But it means in this situation, what the Palestinians in this regard didn't take into consideration is that the mediator usually puts pressure on both sides and that means that both sides should concede in order to get an agreement," he added.

The Palestinians say they will not return to direct negotiations unless Israel stops building settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

Israel wants direct negotiations without preconditions, and has asserted its right to build anywhere in Jerusalem, which it considers its undivided and eternal capital.  

The Israeli media have reported that Israel may be preparing to offer a package of goodwill gestures, including the release of some Palestinian prisoners.

With neither side showing any willingness early on to grant concessions on the key issues, analysts say there is cause for pessimism of any significant progress in the next four months.

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