Reuters - U.S. President Barack Obama's special envoy to the Middle East, George Mitchell, arrived in Israel on Wednesday as part of a push to revive stalled Israeli-Palestinian peacemaking.
The right-leaning government of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has so far refused to commit itself to resuming statehood talks with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas or to freezing Jewish settlement growth, both priorities for the new U.S. administration.
Starting his first visit to Israel since Netanyahu took office late last month, Mitchell met Defence Minister Ehud Barak in Tel Aviv on Wednesday night, Barak's office said.
He is due to meet ultranationalist Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, Netanyahu and other top officials on Thursday.
He will have talks with Abbas and other Palestinian leaders in the Israeli-occupied West Bank on Friday.
The United States and the European Union want Netanyahu to resume the negotiations and to commit himself to the goal of establishing a Palestinian state alongside Israel.
Netanyahu has said he wants to focus in talks with Abbas on economic and security matters, rather than thorny issues such as statehood borders, and the future of Jerusalem and Palestinian refugees. He has not mentioned establishing a Palestinian state.
That position could put Netanyahu on a collision course with Obama, who has repeatedly called for Palestinian statehood.
Lieberman has outright rejected restarting the negotiations that were launched by then-U.S. President George W. Bush at a conference in Annapolis, Maryland in 2007.
The State Department said last week that Mitchell would use his trip to the region to discuss the next steps toward resuming the negotiations.
Mitchell, a former U.S. senator who mediated in the Northern Ireland peace process, visited Morocco and Algeria on Tuesday, and heads for Cairo for talks with Egyptian officials on Friday.