Talks go nowhere as Israel won’t back down on settlements

JERUSALEM: Palestinian militants and Israeli forces attacked each other Wednesday, forming a grim backdrop for the latest round of US-driven peace negotiations. The talks ended with no agreement on the most pressing issue: Jewish settlements.

Former Sen. George Mitchell, the US envoy for Mideast peace efforts, emerged from an evening session between Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to say the talks had been encouraging but fell short of a breakthrough.

“A serious and substantive discussion is well under way,” Mitchell told a news conference.
The leaders met with US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton for about two hours and agreed to continue the search for a peace deal, he said. But it was not clear when they would reconvene. Lower-level officials will meet next week to work out a plan for the next meeting between Netanyahu and Abbas, Mitchell said.

Mitchell said no one should expect an easy road ahead, but he contended important progress was being made.

“The two leaders are not leaving the tough issues to the end of their discussions; they are tackling upfront — and did so this evening — the issues that are at the center of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict,” he said. “We take this as a strong indicator of their belief that peace is possible and of their desire to conclude an agreement.”

“That subject was discussed this evening, we continue in our efforts to make progress in that regard and believe that we are doing so,” Mitchell told reporters.

Palestinians say they will leave the talks if construction resumes in the settlements, built on land they want for a state and which they fear would deny them a viable and contiguous country.

It was Abbas’ first visit to the official residence in Jerusalem of Israel’s prime minister since the right-wing Netanyahu took office 18 months ago. He had met there before with Netanyahu’s centrist predecessor, Ehud Olmert.

“Today I returned to this house after a long period of absence in order to continue the talks and the negotiations, in hope of arriving at an eternal peace in all the region, and especially peace between the Israeli people and the Palestinian people,” Abbas wrote in the visitors’ book.

Washington has set a one-year target for resolving major issues dividing the two sides in a Palestinian drive for a state. Mitchell said Israeli and Palestinian negotiators would meet next week and set a new date for leaders to convene.

Meanwhile, Abbas warned new settlement construction would end peace talks after the Israeli premier told him building will continue, a senior Palestinian official said.

The official said Netanyahu told Abbas during peace talks in Jerusalem on Wednesday that settlement construction “will continue,” the official said following the meeting.

Abbas responded: “If settlement construction continues, I will stop negotiations,” the official said, asking not to be named. – Arabnews