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US Envoy Faces New Obstacles in Mideast Peace Mission

Jewish settlements remain a stumbling block to resuming the peace negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians

U.S. President Barack Obama's point man in the Middle East is pressing on with efforts to revive the stalled peace process. But both sides are reinforcing tough bargaining positions.

U.S. envoy George Mitchell met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem during the fifth day of his latest peace mission.

Mr. Netanyahu told the Cabinet that he heard "some interesting ideas," which he hoped would lead to the resumption of peace talks.

He said that "if the Palestinians express a similar readiness," then it will be possible to advance the peace process.

But the Palestinians have told Mitchell that they will not return to the negotiating table until Israel freezes all construction in Jewish settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, and they have rejected Israel's offer of a partial freeze.

The Palestinians say Israel must withdraw to the 1967 borders and dismantle all settlements, but Israel says it will hold on to three major West Bank settlement blocs in any final peace agreement. So after meeting Mitchell, Mr. Netanyahu traveled to two settlement blocs near Jerusalem to make a point. He participated in tree-planting ceremonies marking the Jewish New Year of the Trees.

The first stop was the Gush Etzion Bloc near Palestinian-ruled Bethlehem.

"This is a clear message that we are going to stay here and plant and build," Mr. Netanyahu said. "This place will be an inseparable part of the State of Israel forever."