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(photo credit: AP)
US President Barack Obama's Mideast envoy George Mitchell said Friday that a "two-state solution is the only solution" to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, highlighting stark policy differences between the US and Israel over the idea of Palestinian statehood.
"This conflict has gone on far too long, and the people of this region should no longer have to wait for the just peace that guarantees security for all," Mitchell said.
The envoy spoke after meeting with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas at his West Bank headquarters. Mitchell is here on his third trip since being named by Obama, and on Thursday met for the first time with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu.
An official in Netanyahu's office said that in a meeting with Mitchell on Thursday, the prime minister expressed concern that if a Palestinian state is set up, Hamas could take over the West Bank, as it overran Gaza in 2007. The experience of Israel withdrawing from territory, only to have it controlled by Palestinian extremists "is not going to be repeated," said the official who spoke on condition of anonymity because the talks were not public.
However, Mitchell struck a firm tone on Friday, after his meeting with Abbas. He said establishing a Palestinian state alongside Israel is a national interest of the US, not only of the people in the Middle East.
He said the Arab peace initiative, which offers Israel full recognition by the Arab world in exchange for full withdrawal from occupied territories, should be part of future peace efforts.
"This conflict has gone on for far too long, and the people of this region should no longer have to wait for the just peace that guarantees security for all," Mitchell said.
"The US is committed to the establishment of a sovereign, independent Palestinian state, where the aspirations of the Palestinian people to control their own destiny are realized," he said.
"We want the Arab peace initiative to be a part of the effort to reach this goal. A comprehensive peace in this region is in the national interest of the United States. It is in the interest of the Palestinian people, it is in the interest of the people of Israel and of the entire region. A two-state solution is the only solution," he said.
Earlier, Abbas aides argued that Israel must be held to the same standards as the Palestinians. The previous Israeli government accepted the idea of a two-state solution, though it disagreed sharply with Abbas over the terms of Palestinian statehood.
"The international Quartet ... demanded from us to accept a two-state solution and agreements signed, and we did, and I think the same standards should be applied to Israel," Abbas aide Saeb Erekat said ahead of the Mitchell-Obama talks.
He said that "it is time for President Obama to make sure that Israel" meets its commitments, he said, adding that failure to do so would weaken moderates and push the region further into the hands of extremists.