U.S. envoy George Mitchell said he will consult with a range of Middle East leaders in the coming week after shuttling between Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Mitchell said his meeting with Abbas today in the West Bank city of Ramallah was “very candid and productive.” He met yesterday with Netanyahu in Jerusalem to start the latest round of U.S.-mediated indirect talks aimed at restarting face-to-face peace negotiations.
“We recognize the difficulties and the complexities involved in trying to realize this mission, but we are determined to continue our efforts,” Mitchell told reporters. Neither Abbas nor chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erakat, who accompanied Mitchell to his car, made a public statement.
Mitchell’s return to the region follows Netanyahu’s July 6 White House visit with President Barack Obama, in which the two leaders expressed hope that direct Israeli-Palestinian talks could be started in the next two months. Mitchell said he will tour nearby capitals to discuss a broader peace agreement between Israel and Arab nations. He didn’t specify whom he plans to meet.
Erakat has said Abbas won’t meet Netanyahu for peace talks until Israel freezes all Jewish settlement construction in the West Bank. Netanyahu declared a limited 10-month moratorium on building in settlements last November that is set to expire Sept. 26. The freeze excluded public buildings, such as kindergartens, and some 3,000 housing units that previously received government approval.
Obama said after the meeting with Netanyahu that he hopes Abbas will enter direct negotiations before the Israeli construction moratorium expires.