A United States envoy has launched a new peace mission to the Middle East. As Robert Berger reports from VOA's Jerusalem bureau, he was critical of both Israel and the Palestinians.
Retired American general William Fraser held his first meeting with Israeli and Palestinian officials at a hotel in Jerusalem. Fraser was appointed by President Bush to oversee compliance with the internationally-backed "Road Map" peace plan, which is the basis of negotiations on Palestinian statehood.
Prime Minister Salam Fayyad represented the Palestinians at the talks, but Israel sent a lower-level official from the Defense Ministry, Amos Gilad.
Gilad told Israel Radio that the meeting was aimed at dialogue and advancing the peace process. He denied media reports that Defense Minister Ehud Barak did not attend because of tension with the Americans over the Road Map.
The U.S. issued a statement saying the meeting focused on areas where the parties were not keeping their commitments. It did not elaborate, but the U.S. has described Israeli settlement construction in East Jerusalem and the West Bank as a violation of the Road Map that is harming peace efforts.
The United States has also pressed the Palestinians to keep their Road Map commitments and do more to rein in militant groups.
Palestinian analyst Wadia Abu Nasser believes that criticism is unfair considering the restrictions imposed by the Israeli military.
"No doubt that Palestinian Authority security systems are doing maximum possible efforts," he said. "Nevertheless, I believe it is very clear to all that the real ruler of the West Bank is the Israeli army."
Israel has rejected U.S. and Palestinian demands to freeze settlement construction. It says it reserves the right to build in areas of Jerusalem and in West Bank settlement blocs which, it says, will remain a part of Israel in any final peace agreement with the Palestinians.