Page last updated at 19:12 GMT, Wednesday, 5 May 2010 20:12 UK

US envoy George Mitchell meets Israel PM Netanyahu

George Mitchell
"Proximity talks" were meant to have begun, but the start has been delayed

US Middle East envoy George Mitchell has met Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu before the start of indirect talks with the Palestinians.

The three-hour meeting in Jerusalem was described as "good and productive" by the US state department.

But no announcements were made and Israeli officials have said the two are to meet again on Thursday.

Mr Mitchell is due to meet with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on Friday in Ramallah.

The meeting with Mr Netanyahu had been planned as the start of "proximity talks" but the Palestine Liberation Organisation has still to agree to them.

The PLO said it would meet on Saturday to finally decide if talks can proceed.

Mr Abbas said on Wednesday that the indirect talks should last four months, after which the Palestinians would consult with the Arab League on whether to continue.

The negotiations need to immediately grapple with the toughest issues at the heart of the conflict, he said.

He said first on the agenda should be the borders of a future Palestinian state.

But the issue, connected to the building of Jewish neighbourhoods in East Jerusalem, has been a stumbling block.

The talks were delayed in March by a row which strained Israeli-US relations.

The Palestinians pulled out after an announcement that Israel had approved plans for new homes in the East Jerusalem settlement of Ramat Shlomo during a visit to Israel by US Vice-President Joe Biden.

Earlier Obama administration adviser David Axelrod said the issue of Jerusalem would come at the end of the programme for talks.

Israel has occupied the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, since 1967. It insists Jerusalem will remain its undivided capital, although Palestinians want to establish their capital in the east of the city.

Nearly half a million Jews live in more than 100 settlements in the West Bank, among a Palestinian population of about 2.5 million.

The settlements are illegal under international law, although Israel disputes this.

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