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Israeli and Palestinian Leaders to Meet Obama at UN

By Robert Berger
19 September 2009

Israeli and Palestinian leaders have accepted an invitation from President Barack Obama for a three-way meeting Tuesday on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly in New York. It will be the first meeting between Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu since the latter was elected in February.

Peace talks were suspended in December and efforts to revive them have bogged down over the issue of Israeli settlement expansion. The United States and Palestinians have demanded a complete freeze on settlement construction, but Israel refused and has offered a partial freeze.

Under the Israeli offer, construction of 3,000 Jewish homes in the West Bank would continue, but no new projects would be approved.

Israel's Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon says peace talks could have resumed long ago, if it were not for the refusal of President Abbas, who is also known as Abu Mazen.

"Prime Minister Netanyahu, from day one that he took office, asked Mr. Abu Mazen to come over and meet, no preconditions, and the rejection came from the Palestinian side," said Danny Ayalon.

Ayalon says the talks with President Obama are a positive step.

"As for a trilateral meeting, we certainly will be there," he said.

The Palestinians say they will be there too, but they say the meeting does not signal a formal resumption of peace talks. Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat says that will not happen until Israel stops all settlement construction in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

"The truth of the matter is the Israeli government had the choice between settlements and peace, and they chose settlements," said Saeb Erekat.

U.S. Middle East envoy George Mitchell held six days of talks in the region last week trying to find a formula for resuming peace talks, but came up empty handed. Now, President Obama will use the full weight of his office to try to break the deadlock.

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