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Page last updated at 13:48 GMT, Friday, 22 January 2010

US envoy George Mitchell continues Mid East peace push

George Mitchell and Mahmoud Abbas (22 January 2010)
George Mitchell said the US would continue to pursue peace

US Envoy George Mitchell has met Palestinian leaders a day after holding talks in Israel in his latest push to restart peace talks.

It comes a day after US President Barack Obama said his administration had "overestimated" its own ability to bring the two sides to the table.

The Palestinians are refusing to re-start talks without a complete halt to Israeli settlement building.

Israel has curbed settlement growth in the West bank, but not East Jerusalem.

Mr Mitchell met Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah in the West Bank.

On Thursday he held talks with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Defence Minister Ehud Barak and President Shimon Peres in Israel.

What we did this year didn't produce the kind of breakthrough that we wanted, and if we had anticipated some of these political problems on both sides earlier, we might not have raised expectations as high
Barack Obama, speaking to Time magazine

After meeting Mr Peres, he said that despite the "complexities and difficulties" of trying to make peace in the region, the US would continue until it reached its objective.

'Overestimated'

In an interview with Time magazine published on Thursday, Mr Obama said the US had "overestimated" its ability to persuade Israel and the Palestinians to engage "in a meaningful conversation".

"What we did this year didn't produce the kind of breakthrough that we wanted, and if we had anticipated some of these political problems on both sides earlier, we might not have raised expectations as high," he said.

Mr Obama has been criticised for opening his push for peace with calls for a complete halt on Israeli settlement building in the West Bank, which Israel has been unwilling to deliver.

It has agreed to a 10-month lull in building, excluding East Jerusalem, where the Palestinians want the capital of their future state.

But this has not been sufficient for the Palestinians, who have balked at Israeli demands that they recognise Israel as a Jewish state, that a future Palestinian state be demilitarised, and that Israel retain control of an "undivided" Jerusalem.

Reports in local media suggest a possibility for bridging the gap may be letters of guarantee for both sides on the basis of the negotiations, or some form of "proximity talks" where the two sides meet separately with mediators.

The Palestinians want any talks to continue from negotiations with the previous administration, which were said to be based on the return of territory roughly equal to the entire West Bank, which Israel occupied in the 1967 Arab-Israeli war.

Mr Mitchell's visit has been further complicated by Mr Netanyahu's announcement on Wednesday that Israel would insist on a presence on the east of a future Palestinian state, in order to prevent the smuggling of rockets which could be used to target it.



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