Israelis cool on US call for freeze - Printable Version
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Israelis cool on US call for freeze - --- - 09-19-2009 07:19 PM
Israelis cool on US call for freeze
LANDLER ETHAN BRONNER, WASHINGTON
September 20, 2009
PRESIDENT Barack Obama had hoped to go to his first United Nations meeting this week with at least one diplomatic coup: a plan to restart the long-stalled Middle East peace talks, to be announced in a three-way meeting with the leaders of Israel and the Palestinian Authority.
But after a fruitless week of shuttle diplomacy, his special envoy, George Mitchell, returned to the US yesterday without an agreement on freezing construction of Jewish settlements and amid fresh signs of differences on the basis for peace negotiations.
Mr Obama faces the prospect of a meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas that some say will be little more than a photo opportunity, underscoring how elusive an Arab-Israeli peace agreement is.
During his weeklong visit to the Middle East, people briefed on the talks said, Mr Mitchell found substantial differences between the sides, even on issues that had been agreed upon in previous negotiations, such as the basic configuration of Israel's borders and whether the status of Jerusalem should be included in peace talks.
The State Department declined to comment on the details of Mr Mitchell's discussions, though a spokesman, Ian Kelly, acknowledged that the trip had failed to produce a breakthrough.
Other senior administration officials say they do not view their inability to announce a new round of talks this week as a setback.
They say that Mr Obama expected this to be a lengthy, gruelling process, and that Mr Mitchell has already moved Mr Netanyahu a long way towards accepting some form of freeze and Arab countries towards considering conciliatory measures towards Israel.
''Given the situation we confronted in January 2009, the amount of progress Senator Mitchell has made in nine months is remarkable,'' said White House spokesman Tommy Vietor.
US and Palestinian officials said there were two sets of problems, the first dealing with the length and extent of an Israeli settlement freeze in the West Bank and Jerusalem, and the second dealing with the basis for the negotiations themselves.
''If one or the other had worked, if the freeze had been broader or if the terms for negotiation had been broader, that would have been enough to get the ball rolling,'' an aide to Mr Mitchell said, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the delicacy of the matter.
''But with gaps over both, we have to keep working.''
Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said that without a freeze in advance, negotiations were pointless.
NEW YORK TIMES