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Page last updated at 09:37 GMT, Monday, 26 April 2010 10:37 UK

US envoy George Mitchell says Mid-East talks 'positive'

US envoy George Mitchell meeting Mahmoud Abbas
Mr Mitchell said the meetings were "productive"

US Mid-East envoy George Mitchell has said talks were "positive" as he ended a visit aiming to break the deadlock over Israeli-Palestinian negotiations.

Plans to launch indirect talks failed last month because of a row about Israeli building in East Jerusalem.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamim Netanyahu said his meetings with Mr Mitchell had been "very positive".

The Palestinians asked for further clarification but said they still wanted to enter the "proximity" talks.

The Palestinians pulled out of the scheduled indirect talks last month after Israel approved a plan for 1,600 homes in occupied East Jerusalem, where the Palestinians want the capital of their future state.

That announcement, as US Vice-President Joe Biden was visiting to launch the negotiations, triggered a crisis in relations between Israel and its greatest ally, Washington.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. File photo
Mr Netanyahu says "there will be no freeze in Jerusalem"

Since early March, Mr Mitchell's team has been trying to extract guarantees from the Israelis to bring the Palestinians back to the proposed talks, which would involve Mr Mitchell shuttling between the two sides.

Ending his first visit since the row broke out, Mr Mitchell said he had held "positive and productive" talks with both Israeli and Palestinian leaders.

On Sunday Mr Netanyahu said Israel and the US wanted "to begin the peace process immediately".

"I can only hope that the Palestinians will want to start the peace process immediately. In the coming days, we will know if the peace process will get under way."

None of the parties have confirmed what the Israelis have offered.

The Israeli newspaper quoted sources close to the discussions as saying the Americans were confident the Israelis would refrain from "significant" construction work in East Jerusalem, and that the proximity talks would begin by mid-May.

A report in the Wall Street Journal last week quoted unnamed US officials as saying that Mr Netanyahu had offered measures including easing the blockade on Gaza, releasing prisoners, freezing the controversial 1,600 homes for two years, and agreeing to discuss borders and the status of Jerusalem.

Nabil Abu Rudeineh, spokesman for Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, said Mr Mitchell had brought "some ideas".

Osnat Schwartz, Israeli citizen

The Palestinians were still seeking clarification, but hoped to be in a position to seek the Arab League's backing to re-enter talks at a meeting of the body scheduled for 1 May.

"We were always in favour of the talks, and we still want them to go ahead," he said.

Palestinian officials say the US has invited Mr Abbas to Washington the following week.

Mr Mitchell is expected to return to the region next week.

The Palestinians' position on exactly what Israel must do before they would join indirect talks remains unclear.

Since the row broke out, Mr Abbas has said Israel must halt all settlement activity, including in East Jerusalem, though he initially agreed to the negotiations without a total freeze.

But a senior Palestinian official has set the bar lower, telling the BBC that the Ramat Shlomo project must be put on ice for at least three years, and the Israelis must not "continue to take actions which destroy our credibility".

Mr Netanyahu has repeatedly said that no other Israeli prime minister in the past 46 years has been asked to stop building in Jerusalem, which would be unacceptable to his right-wing coalition partners.

He says he is willing to talk without preconditions, but has laid out a tougher stance on final status issues such as borders and Jerusalem than his predecessor, Ehud Olmert.

Israel has occupied East Jerusalem since 1967. It annexed the area in 1981 and sees it as its exclusive domain.

Under international law the area is occupied territory and the international community does not recognise Israel's annexation of East Jerusalem.



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