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Middle east

Mitchell positive despite lack of settlement freeze deal

Video by Shirli SITBON

Text by NEWS WIRES

Latest update : 2009-07-28

US Middle East envoy George Mitchell has said that "good progress" has been made after meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, despite failing to obtain a deal to freeze Jewish settlements on occupied Palestinian lands.

Reuters - U.S. envoy George Mitchell emerged from a meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Tuesday without a deal on a Jewish settlement freeze but he said they had made “good progress”.

 

Netanyahu said Israel and the United States were moving closer to “an understanding that would enable us to continue and ... complete a peace process that would be established between us and our Palestinian neighbours and ultimately the entire region”.

 

President Barack Obama’s demand, in line with a 2003 peace plan, to freeze Israeli settlement in the occupied West Bank and Arab East Jerusalem has met stiff resistance from Netanyahu, in the most serious rift in U.S.-Israeli relations in a decade.

 

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has said peace talks with Israel, suspended since late last year, could not resume unless Netanyahu stopped all settlement activity.

 

Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barak has publicly raised the possibility of a deal under which Israel would halt construction in settlements but complete projects under way in return for steps by Arab countries to normalise relations with Israel.

 

Commenting on his more than two hours of talks with Netanyahu, Mitchell told reporters: “We have made good progress.”

 

Mitchell said he looked forward to continuing his discussions with Netanyahu and moving towards a “comprehensive peace” envisioned by Obama. He did not say when he would next meet the Israeli leader.

 

Neither Mitchell nor Netanyahu, who in his public comments has played down the dispute with Washington, mentioned settlements in their remarks to reporters.

 

Settlement gap

 

Arab moves towards commercial or diplomatic ties with Israel could help Netanyahu persuade partners in his right-leaning coalition to accept a compromise on settlements.

 

But there has been little indication from Arab countries in the region they would make such gestures without a complete settlement freeze.

 

At a meeting in the West Bank on Monday, Mitchell informed Abbas there was “still a gap between us and the Israelis on the settlements issue”, a Palestinian official told Reuters.

 

After seeing Mitchell, Netanyahu visited the Israeli-controlled Allenby Bridge crossing between the West Bank and Jordan. He has ordered its opening hours to be extended to ease the movement of Palestinian commercial goods.

 

“We are not waiting, we are doing. We are opening roadblocks, we are opening ties, we are opening the roads to peace,” Netanyahu told reporters.

 

Mitchell has praised Israel for removing some of its military checkpoints in the West Bank in a declared bid to bolster the Western-backed Abbas and the Palestinian economy. But Palestinian chief negotiator Saeb Erekat said on Monday that moving a “handful” of roadblocks changed little.

 

Mitchell has held top-level talks in Britain, the United Arab Emirates, Syria, Egypt and Israel over the past week. He said he and Netanyahu would meet again, but gave no date.

 

Netanyahu is to hold talks on Wednesday with U.S. national security adviser Jim Jones and other Middle East specialists sent to the region by the White House.

Date created : 2009-07-28

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