US Envoy Ends Israeli-Palestinian Meetings with No Deal in Hand
By Luis Ramirez
18 September 2009
U.S. special envoy for the Middle East George Mitchell has left Israel and the Palestinian Territories with no agreement on restarting peace talks. The U.S. official was unable to bridge the gap between Israelis and Palestinians over the question of Jewish settlement expansion in the West Bank.
U.S. President Barack Obama's envoy, George Mitchell, spent Friday shuttling between Jerusalem and the West Bank town of Ramallah, meeting with Israeli and Palestinian leaders.
With the Jewish New Year and the Muslim Eid holidays both approaching, time ran out on the U.S. envoy to press Washington's demand for Israel to freeze settlement construction. Mitchell had been in the region since Saturday.
His aim was to bridge the gap between Israelis, who want to continue expanding Jewish settlements in the West Bank and the Palestinians, who want settlement construction to stop altogether.
Israel wants to go on building about 3,000 homes and limit construction for several months. Palestinian chief negotiator Saeb Erekat told reporters on Friday the U.S. envoy had not convinced the Israelis to meet their demands.
"The senator informed us that there is not an agreement yet with the Israeli side," he said. "We appreciated the efforts being exerted by Senator Mitchell."
He indicated reporters there was no more reason to keep talking. "We once again reiterated that there are no middle ground solutions for settlements. A settlement freeze is a settlement freeze," said Erekat.
Mitchell left the meetings without making any statements.
One short-term aim was to arrange a summit with Mr. Netanyahu, Mr. Abbas, and U.S. President Barack Obama on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly in New York next week.
U.S. officials say mediation efforts will continue, and a meeting among Israeli, Palestinian, and U.S. leaders might still happen.
Palestinian officials, however, said they believe there would be little meaning to such a meeting if Israel does not agree to halt settlement construction.
The Palestinians say the existence of the West Bank settlements - home to about 300,000 Israelis - on land captured by Israel after winning the 1967 Arab Israeli war prevents them from establishing a viable state.
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