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US Envoy Tries to Restart Mideast Peace Process

U.S. special envoy George Mitchell is back in the Middle East, trying to get the Israeli Palestinian peace process moving again. Mitchell met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Friday, a day after the Israeli leader said Israel would continue its controversial policy of building Israeli settlements in East Jerusalem. Part of the job ahead for the U.S. envoy is helping repair damaged relations between Washington and Israel.

Israeli officials gave no details of the discussions between the U.S. envoy and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, saying only that talks went well. In remarks going into the meeting, the Israeli leader told U.S. special envoy George Mitchell his government is serious about moving the peace process forward.

"I look forward to working with you and with President Obama to advance peace. We're serious about it. We know you're serious about it," he said.

However, with Israel continuing to reject Washington's calls for an end to settlement construction, there were few signs of a breakthrough that would mend relations between the two allies.

Ties have been frayed as the Obama administration pressures Israel to stop or restrict settlement construction on lands that are claimed by the Palestinians.

Analysts say the U.S. and Israel's approaches to the conflict have long differed. Israel has had a long-standing policy of settling the occupied territories. The United States has for years opposed this practice, considering it unhelpful to the peace process.

"This is a tension or difference or a gap in approaches that has been boiling for several years but was conveniently suppressed because there was a peace process or even the appearance of a peace process," said Alon Pinkas, a foreign affairs analyst at the Yitzhak Rabin Center in Tel Aviv and a former consul general to New York. "In the last year, there has not been a peace process it all surfaced and erupted."

Israel has given no signs of bowing to Washington's key demands on settlement construction.

On Thursday, as Mitchell arrived here, Prime Minister Netanyahu told Israeli television Israel will continue settling East Jerusalem.

He said there will not be a building freeze in Jerusalem. Mr. Netanyahu said Israel's policy on Jerusalem will not change, and it has been, he said, the policy of all his predecessors since the 1967 war.

It was in the 1967 Arab-Israeli war that Israel captured East Jerusalem and the West Bank from Jordanian control.

The Palestinians claim the eastern part of Jerusalem as the capital of their future state. They say they will not restart negotiations until Israel stops all settlement activity. Israel wants the Palestinians to return to talks without preconditions.

With the peace process stalled for more than a year, observers see fatigue setting in among all those involved, including the United States.

Pinkas says the only way to avoid a deepening of the conflict is for both Israelis and Palestinians to take difficult but meaningful steps toward finding a real solution.

"A modus vivendi (way of living) will be found in terms of a working relationship but that would be on borrowed time because at some point, everyone is going to see that the process is not producing the desired goals and desired results and it's all going to explode. By explode, I mean politically," he said.

Some Israeli officials on Friday say that they were hopeful a deal would be reached soon for both sides to begin indirect negotiations.

Mitchell is due to meet with Palestinian officials before seeing Mr. Netanyahu again on Sunday.