AFP – US Middle East envoy George Mitchell met Israel’s prime minister again on Sunday after dashing to Egypt as part of an uphill task to bring Israelis and Palestinians back to the negotiating table.
The former US senator met for an hour in Jerusalem with Benjamin Netanyahu, officials said, after separate meetings on Friday with the hawkish premier and Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas.
Netanyahu’s office said at the end of the meeting, which was also joined by Defence Minister Ehud Barak, that two senior aides to the premier would travel this week to Washington for more talks.
Mitchell, who did not speak after the meeting, had earlier told reporters in Cairo that “everyone who truly believes in peace has to take responsibility to take actions to achieve that goal.”
Mitchell held talks with Egyptian intelligence chief Omar Suleiman late on Saturday and with Foreign Minister Ahmed Abul Gheit on Sunday before returning to Jerusalem for talks with Netanyahu as part of his latest regional trip.
The US envoy arrived in the region on Wednesday and is pushing to get Israelis and Palestinians to agree to restart peace negotiations suspended in December after the start of the Gaza war.
He has said Washington was pushing for an “early relaunch” of negotiations and that the US administration was still deeply and fully committed to the vision of a “viable, independent Palestinian state with contiguous territory.”
But hopes for a breakthrough were dim, with Israel dismissing Washington’s vision of a regional peace as unrealistic, and no compromise in sight on the thorny issue of Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank.
The Palestinians have backed US calls that Israel freeze all settlement activity before peace talks are resumed, but Netanyahu has refused to do so.
Abbas said late Sunday that he had no intention of backing down. “Yesterday we told the US envoy George Mitchell that we are determined to achieve peace,” Abbas said in a televised address.
“However we believe that achieving peace requires ensuring the prerequisites as defined by the international community… in order to resume the peace process and negotiations… first and foremost stopping all settlement activity in Jerusalem and the rest of Palestinian territory.”
Mitchell, who played a key role in the diplomacy that preceded the 1998 Good Friday peace deal in Northern Ireland, admitted he was facing a hard task in his latest mission.
“We do not underestimate the difficulty for us or the parties,” he said on Friday.
Washington is pushing for a global Middle East deal that would see Israel strike peace with the Palestinians while Syria and Lebanon and Arab countries normalise relations with the Jewish state.
Israel and the Palestinians relaunched their peace negotiations in November 2007 but the talks made little visible progress and were suspended in late December after the start of Israel’s war in the Hamas-run Gaza Strip.