Mitchell outlines US view of 'comprehensive' peace deal
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Following talks with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, US Mideast envoy George Mitchell (left) said meaningful peace must include "peace between Israel and the Palestinians, between Syria and Israel, and between Israel and Lebanon".
AFP - US envoy George Mitchell met Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Tuesday as part of a push to get all players in the Middle East to take meaningful steps towards comprehensive regional peace.
The former US senator said he and Netanyahu made "good progress" in their nearly three-hour meeting that focused on the thorny issue of Israel's settlement activity in the West Bank.
"We look forward to continuing our discussions to reach a point that we can all move forward to reach a comprehensive peace," he told reporters.
The hawkish premier's refusal to heed Washington's repeated demands that Israel halt all settlement activity on occupied Palestinian land led to a rare public row that raised tensions between the two allies to levels not seen in years.
Both sides have in recent weeks sought to lower the flames.
Netanyahu said the two sides were making progress "toward achieving the understanding that will enable us to continue and complete the peace process established between us and Palestinian neighbours and the countries in the entire region."
The two agreed to meet again sometime in August, Israeli public radio reported.
Israeli media reports over the past several days have said that the sides are close to reaching a compromise that would see Israel agree to a temporary settlement freeze, but continue construction projects already underway.
Tuesday's meeting is part of Mitchell's whistlestop tour of the region in which he has held talks with leaders of Syria, Egypt and the Palestinians in four days.
Throughout the tourney the former US senator has said repeatedly that Israel, the Palestinians and the Arab states must all take steps that may be difficult and controversial towards a comprehensive peace deal.
"President (Barack) Obama's vision is of a comprehensive peace in the Middle East which includes peace between Israel and the Palestinians, between Syria and Israel, and between Israel and Lebanon," he said after meeting Netanyahu.
Such a deal would also see "a full normalisation of relations between Israel and all its neighbours in the region," said Mitchell, who played a key role in brokering the 1998 peace accord in Northern Ireland.
To move toward such a deal all sides "must take steps, some of them difficult some of them controversial," Mitchell said late Monday after talks with Abbas.
"For the Arab states, that means meaningful steps toward normalisation of relations with Israel," he said earlier in the day.
"For the Palestinians, it means expanding and improving their security forces, to take action against incitement and to refrain from any words or deeds that may make it more difficult to move quickly toward successful negotiations.
"For Israel, that means making possible improved access and movement and economic growth for Palestinians... and dealing with difficult issues like settlement and outposts."
Hours after the meeting, Netanyahu went to the Allenby border terminal with Jordan -- the West Bank's sole crossing not with Israel -- to announce the extension of its hours for goods from the currently 8:00 pm until midnight.
The economy in the occupied West Bank has grown recently "partly as a result of what the Palestinians are doing, partly as a result of what we are doing by opening these crossings," he said.
Mitchell is one of three senior US officials who are visiting Israel and the region this week as part of Washington's drive to jumpstart the moribund Middle East peace process.
Defence Secretary Robert Gates held talks in Israel on Monday before heading to Jordan and Iraq and National Security Advisor James Jones was due to arrive in Israel later on Tuesday for a three-day visit.
Israel and the Palestinians relaunched negotiations after a break of more than six years at an international conference in the United States in November 2007, but the talks made little progress before being suspended amid the Gaza war earlier this year.
Direct talks between Israel and Syria broke down in 2000. The two sides held indirect preliminary negotiations through Turkish mediators last year, but these too were broken off after the start of the Gaza war in December.
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