'We can manage without US guarantees'

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Israel has taken significant steps to propel the peace process forward, while the Palestinian Authority refuses to renew peace talks, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu's office asserted in a statement released Saturday night. "It is the Palestinian Authority that needs to change its ways - certainly not the Israeli government," it read. The statement came in response to remarks made by US Middle East envoy George Mitchell, suggesting that the US could withdraw guarantees given to Israel in the event that peace talks with the Palestinians remained at an impasse. When asked by Charlie Rose on PBS: "You sit there and you say to Israel, look, if you don't do this, what?", Mitchell replied: "Under American law, the United States can withhold support on loan guarantees to Israel... There are others [options], and you have to keep open whatever options. But our view is that we think the way to approach this is to try to persuade the parties what is in their self-interest." Mitchell said he believed negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians could be concluded within two years - provided that they resumed in the near future. "We think that the negotiation should last no more than two years, once begun we think it can be done within that period of time. We hope the parties agree. Personally I think it can be done in a shorter period of time," Mitchell said. He added that the US was working to persuade both Israel and the Palestinians to agree to conditions which were in their best interests. The envoy said he intends to return to the region in the coming days, and hopes for quick development on the political, security and economic fronts. On Thursday, Ambassador to Washington Michael Oren told The Jerusalem Post that "In the past, attempts to impose time frameworks have not proved either realizable or helpful." Mitchell, however, expressed hope that a Palestinian state would be able to properly function from the moment it is established. He added that parallel to the Palestinian channel, Israel must advance negotiations with Syria. In related news, while US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Jordanian Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh on Friday urged the Israelis and Palestinians to begin talks which would resolve the border issue, chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat was not optimistic about this latest take on the peace process. "You cannot have discussions on borders while the territory you want to set up your state on is being eaten up by the settlements," Erekat said. "We are awaiting the arrival of [US Mideast envoy] Sen. Mitchell, and we hope the US administration will go on the path of the end game. What we need are decisions now on the end game, on the borders," he said. Hilary Leila Krieger and AP contributed to this report.