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(photo credit: AP)
US President Barack Obama wants "immediate" talks between the Palestinians and Israel to forge a comprehensive Middle East peace agreement, US envoy George Mitchell was quoted by Reuters as saying on Monday.
En route to the Middle East, Mitchell said such talks were aimed at reaching "a comprehensive peace and normalization of relations" between Israel and its neighbors, which would also serve "the security interests of the United States."
"The president has told me to exert all efforts to create the circumstance when the parties can begin immediate discussions," Mitchell told reporters at the start of a Palestinian donors' conference in the Norwegian capital.
Mitchell said the purpose of the donors' meeting was to "provide support for the Palestinian Authority" and pave the way for a two-state solution with Israel.
"It's important that there is a building of institutions and governmental capacity so that at an early time there can be an independent and viable Palestinian state," Mitchell said.
Norway's Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Stoere said at the conference that recent political uncertainty regarding any Middle East peace deal had hurt fund-raising efforts for the Palestinians.
"We, the donor community, are not into this as a humanitarian project but a political project," said Stoere, who chairs the donors' group for Norway.
A World Bank report on the Palestinian economy issued at the donors' meeting said foreign support remained "indispensable" to allow the Palestinian Authority to "provide basic services" and praised "good" budget management by PA President Mahmoud Abbas and his team.
But on Sunday, PA officials said the Palestinian Authority will not return to the negotiating table with Israel unless Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu endorses the two-state solution and freezes construction in the West Bank settlements.
The officials said Abbas had relayed this position to the US during his recent visit to Washington, where he held talks with Obama.
One of the officials expressed hope that the looming crisis between the Obama administration and Netanyahu over the future of the peace process would lead to the collapse of the Israeli government.
"Netanyahu's government is bad for the peace process," the official told The Jerusalem Post.
"This is a radical government that does not accept the two-state solution and insists on building settlements," he said.
Another official said that "Netanyahu was mistaken if he thinks he would find any Palestinian who would accept anything less than a sovereign Palestinian state on all the territories that were occupied by Israel in 1967."
The PA official added, "We're not in a rush. Let's see if Obama is serious and whether he's going to force Netanyahu to accept the two-state solution and halt settlement construction. If Obama succeeds, we will resume the peace talks tomorrow morning."
Commenting on the announcement by Netanyahu that he intends to spell out his government's peace strategy soon, Abbas spokesman Nabil Abu Rudaineh said that as far as the Palestinians were concerned, the principles of peace were very clear.
If Netanyahu wants peace, then he must abide by the two-state solution, stop settlement construction and honor the road map plan for peace in the Middle East, Abu Rudaineh said.
"These are the principles of a just peace," Abu Rudaineh added.
"Peace must be based on international resolutions pertaining to the conflict. This requires immediate steps on the ground so as to create the proper atmosphere for the resumption of the peace talks."
Tayeb Abdel Rahim, a senior aide to Abbas, said that in any case the talks with Israel should be resumed from the point where they ended and not from zero.
Abdel Rahim said that there would never be real peace in the region unless Israel released all the Palestinian prisoners.
He said that during his talks with Obama, Abbas had stressed that all the prisoners should be released unconditionally as a prerequisite for peace.