x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

Mitchell tries to persuade leaders to hold peace talks

The US Middle East envoy shuttled between Jerusalem and Amman in his second attempt this week to persuade Israeli and Palestinian leaders to relaunch peace talks.

AMMAN // The US Middle East envoy, George Mitchell, shuttled between Jerusalem and Amman yesterday in his second attempt this week to persuade Israeli and Palestinian leaders to relaunch peace talks. Mr Mitchell met Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, in Jerusalem before heading to Amman, where he held "productive" talks with the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, as part of a tour aimed at reviving talks suspended during the Gaza war.

The US president, Barack Obama, his secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, and the United States "are fully committed to comprehensive peace in the Middle East", Mr Mitchell said in joint remarks with Mr Abbas and the chief Palestinian negotiator, Saeb Erakat. "The two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which includes the creation of an independent and viable Palestinian state - we believe it's the only realistic solution to the conflict."

Mr Mitchell said Washington was fully committed to this objective, and would "pursue our efforts until that objective is achieved". Mr Erakat said the Palestinians have not set preconditions for a resumption of talks with Israel. "We don't have any conditions to resume negotiations. It's time for Israel to drop its conditions," he said. "If Israel thinks that by finger-pointing at us and blaming us [the conflict] can be solved, it won't be solved."

In Jerusalem, Mr Netanyahu said after meeting Mr Mitchell that the envoy had presented "new ideas" about how to relaunch the peace process, without elaborating. "I expressed my hope that these new ideas will lead to the renewal of the peace process if the Palestinians themselves show similar interest," he added. The United States has been trying for months to persuade both sides to return to the negotiating table, but the Palestinians have refused to do so unless Israel halts all settlement growth in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, territories it has occupied since 1967.

Washington initially backed that demand but has more recently pressed both sides to return to the talks immediately and praised a limited 10-month settlement slowdown enacted by Mr Netanyahu in November. The Palestinians have rejected the moratorium on building starts because it excludes East Jerusalem - which they demand as their capital - as well as public buildings and projects already under way.

After meeting Mr Mitchell, Mr Netanyahu attended a symbolic tree-planting ceremony at Gush Etzion, a major West Bank settlement bloc that Israel plans to keep in any future peace deal. The Israeli vice prime minister, Silvan Shalom, said yesterday it was "time to say clearly and unequivocally that there will be no further concessions from Israel for the launching of negotiations". Mr Mitchell held a first round of talks with Mr Netanyahu on Thursday and met Mr Abbas on Friday. Last week he also visited Lebanon and Syria.

The US envoy also met Jordan's King Abdullah in Amman yesterday before the talks with Mr Abbas. * Agence France-Presse