U.S. special envoy George Mitchell has begun yet another trip to Jerusalem in an effort to get Israelis and Palestinians to re-launch peace negotiations. The U.S. envoy arrived in the region as tensions continued to flare.
Mitchell came to Jerusalem in advance of a visit by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
The days preceding the U.S. officials' arrival have seen clashes between Israeli police and Palestinians in Jerusalem. Both Israelis and Palestinians showed little sign Thursday of being ready to compromise enough to return to the negotiations table.
Palestinians say they will not reopen talks until Israel freezes construction on Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank. Israel says it w ants negotiations without preconditions and is offering only a partial halt to construction.
Israel's vice Prime Minister Silvan Shalom told Israeli radio the atmosphere is - in his words - not good.
The Israeli official accused the Palestinians of trying to make President Obama pressure Israel for concessions while not wanting to give up anything. He said the Palestinians are dragging their feet.
Palestinian leaders this week reaffirmed their demand for a full freeze on settlement construction before any talks take place, and they hope the U.S. will continue to pressure Israel to stop building on the settlements.
In a recent VOA interview, Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad said the leadership wants Israel to meet what he said are key requirements for peace.
"Chief amongst them is to have the settlement activity in the area where the Palestinian state is going to emerge, have the settlement activity cease, and cease completely," said Salam Fayyad.
Further clouding prospects for peace are divisions among the Palestinians. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas - whose faction controls only the West Bank and not the Gaza Strip - this week called for elections. Hamas, the militant Islamist group that rules Gaza, this week banned the poll and urged Palestinians in the West Bank not to take part.
U.S. officials say the meetings that Mitchell and Clinton will hold in the coming days will build on what officials said is the intensive work the Obama administration has engaged in with both sides, since the Israeli, Palestinian, and U.S. leaders met on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly in New York last month.
Israelis and Palestinians both criticized that meeting as being no more than a photo opportunity.