x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

Mitchell meets Palestinian president

George Mitchell meets Mahmoud Abbas after telling Israeli leaders the US wants Middle East peace talks to resume.

The US envoy George Mitchell, right, meets the Palestinian prime minister Salam Fayyad at the US Consulate in Jerusalem today.
The US envoy George Mitchell, right, meets the Palestinian prime minister Salam Fayyad at the US Consulate in Jerusalem today.

The US envoy George Mitchell was to meet the Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas today after telling Israeli leaders Washington wants stalled Middle East peace talks to resume soon. Earlier Mr Mitchell met prime minister Salam Fayyad as he continued his latest tour of the region, the first since the US president Barack Obama's heralded Cairo address to the Muslim world last week. Yesterday the US envoy spent four hours with the Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, as the premier prepares to lay out his government's peace policy in a speech on Sunday.

"We all share an obligation to create the conditions for the prompt resumption and early conclusion of negotiations," Mr Mitchell said. "We're now engaged in serious discussions with our Israeli and Palestinian and regional partners to support these efforts," said Mr Mitchell, who also sought to play down tensions that have arisen between Israel and its close ally over Mr Obama's push to restart the hobbled peace process.

Mr Netanyahu has yet to publicly embrace the principle of a Palestinian state, and the Israeli press has been filled with speculation that he might finally do so on Sunday. A day earlier, the premier spoke with Mr Obama over the phone. The White House described the talk as constructive. Tensions have jumped to levels unseen in nearly two decades as Mr Obama's administration has repeatedly called for a complete halt to Israeli settlement activity in the occupied West Bank and said the creation of a Palestinian state was the only "viable" solution to the conflict.

The blunt talk from Washington has raised fears in Israel that its main ally may reduce its support for the Jewish state as it seeks to improve relations with the Muslim world. But in his Cairo speech, Mr Obama reiterated Washington's "unbreakable" bond with Israel, while calling the Palestinian situation "intolerable" and repeating his call for a halt to Jewish settlements. Echoing Mr Obama, Mr Mitchell said yesterday that a US commitment to Israeli security ? the Jewish state's top concern ? remained "unshakeable" and that "the United States and Israel are and will remain close allies and friends."

However, he quizzed the defence minister Ehud Barak over the settlements, which the international community considers illegal and over which the former premier has authority. Mr Obama's administration has repeatedly called for a complete halt to all settlement activity, including building to accommodate population increases. Mr Netanyahu's largely right-wing government vigorously opposes this and would probably collapse if the premier caved in to Washington's demands, analysts in Israel say.

After leaving Israel, Mr Mitchell is due to visit Beirut on Thursday, and Damascus on Friday and Saturday in what will be his first visit to Syria. * AFP