Mitchell wraps up Mideast tour

Erekat Mitchell trip ov

Mitchell Netanyahu 248.88 (photo credit: )
Mitchell Netanyahu 248.88
(photo credit: )
US President Barack Obama's special Mideast envoy on Friday ended his latest mission to the region without agreement on the terms of renewing Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, the chief Palestinian negotiator said. Saeb Erekat was quoted by Israel Radio as saying the United States wanted both a tripartite meeting between President Barack Obama, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, and a situation where Israel could continue to build settlements, but would not get its wish. The deep gaps between the Israeli and Palestinian positions raised doubt about Obama's plans to revive Mideast peace efforts, including the possibility of holding a trilateral meeting next week in New York, on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly. The key disputes are over West Bank settlement expansion and whether peace talks should begin where they left off. Obama's envoy, Sen. George Mitchell, met repeatedly with Netanyahu and Abbas this week to try to pave the way for resuming negotiations, which broke off in late 2008. Abbas told Mitchell on Friday that he would not resume talks without a complete settlement freeze, according to Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat. "We once again reiterated that there are no middle ground solutions for settlements," Erekat told reporters. "A settlement freeze is a settlement freeze." The Palestinians also insist that negotiations resume on the same terms as previous rounds, led by Netanyahu's predecessor, Ehud Olmert. In a final push Friday, Mitchell met Netanyahu in Jerusalem, before shuttling to Ramallah for talks with Abbas. He then met Netanyahu for a second time. There were no details available from Mitchell and Netanyahu's second meeting. Earlier, Erekat said the mediator would not meet with Netanyahu again and instead head back to the US. He said mediation efforts would continue in New York. But Israel media reported late Friday afternoon that Mitchell and Netanyahu had met for a second time on Friday. "This shuttle is over without an agreement," Erekat said. Kurt Hoyer, a US Embassy spokesman in Tel Aviv, said Mitchell's visit was meant to end Friday, and that he didn't know whether the envoy had changed his timetable or if he was leaving empty handed. Hoyer said mediation would continue. "We realize that this is a long process, and we're not approaching it with a certain deadline in mind," he said. Both Netanyahu and Abbas plan to attend the UN General Assembly. Abbas is conflicted about whether to meet with Netanyahu in New York, as a courtesy to Obama, said senior Palestinian officials who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the private nature of the deliberations. The officials said Abbas was under pressure from the US and Egypt to agree to a meeting with Netanyahu, despite the deep differences. However, senior aides urged Abbas not to meet Netanyahu without having set the terms for negotiations, arguing such a meeting would be seen as a sign of Palestinian weakness. Prior to Erekat's comments, Army Radio quoted Jerusalem sources as saying that Netanyahu had agreed to a West Bank settlement freeze of nine months, and not the previously agreed six, during Friday's meeting with the Middle East envoy.