Netanyahu aide: PA thwarted Mitchell bid to renew peace talks
Source in Netanyahu's bureau says meetings held by Obama envoy did not advance trilateral summit.
Officials in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's bureau accused the Palestinians on Friday of thwarting the latest efforts of the U.S. Middle East envoy, George Mitchell, to reach a deal on resuming peace talks.
"The differences that exist are with the Palestinians, in light of the stance they presented," said a senior official in the bureau, after Mitchell held a series of discussions with officials in Israel and the West Bank.
According to the official, Israel will not initiate more meetings on the matter during the Rosh Hashanah holiday, which began on Friday evening. He said Israel would wait until the end of the festival on Sunday evening to learn whether U.S. officials had achieved any progress in further talks with Palestinians.
Another aide to the prime minister was quoted by Reuters as saying that Palestinian negotiators "showed no flexibility while Israel did," and that Israel offered to freeze West Bank settlement construction for 9 months. Mitchell wanted a one-year freeze, the official was quoted as adding.
A source in the bureau also said Friday that absolutely no progress had been achieved in the talks conducted by Mitchell, and that no date had been set for a trilateral summit next week between Netanyahu, Abbas and U.S. President Barack Obama.
"The meetings that were held today brought absolutely no change to the situation," the source said. "No date was set for the summit and there was no progress."
Netanyahu plans to leave on Wednesday for a 30-hour visit to New York, a source in the bureau said, during which he will deliver an address to the United Nations General Assembly.
The Palestinians are refusing to meet with Netanyahu at the sidelines of the assembly unless he declares a comprehensive freeze on settlement activity, including in East Jerusalem.
But the premier is still preparing for the event of a sudden change in the situation that could lead to a trilateral summit, sources in his bureau said. They added that an El Al plane has been put on "alert" for a flight to New York at short notice, either on Monday night or Tuesday morning.
Later Friday, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said the administration would keep pushing for a peace deal.
"I guarantee you that President Obama and I are very patient and very determined," she said in a speech to the Brookings Institution, a Washington think tank. "We know that this is not an easy road for anyone to travel."
However, she also indicated that the administration would not try to impose a solution.
"We are going to do all we can to persuade, cajole, encourage the parties themselves to make that agreement. The United States cannot make it. The Arab nations cannot make it. It is up to the Palestinians and Israelis," she said.
"And to that end, we expect both sides, not just one side, but both sides to be actively engaged and willing to work towards that resolution."
PA negotiator: Mitchell meetings did not advance trilateral summit
Earlier Friday, a senior Palestinian official said Mitchell ended his latest shuttle without agreement on terms for renewed peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians or for setting the trilateral summit.
The envoy had hoped to lay the groundwork for such a meeting next week. But chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat, speaking to European Union consuls in Jerusalem, said the Palestinians are sticking to their demand for a total halt to Israeli settlement activity before talks can take place.
"There is no agreement yet with the Israeli side and no middle ground solution," Erekat said.
Beyond the settlement freeze issue, Erekat added that the current stalemate also centered on setting the agenda for peace talks, and the Palestinian demand to include core issues such as the future status of Jerusalem and the return of Palestinian refugees.
The demand effectively rejects an offer by President Shimon Peres which proposed that new talks would center exclusively on border disputes.
The Palestinians added that they were also disappointed by the American refusal to declare the borders of June 4, 1967 as the official border between Israel and a future Palestinian state.
Israeli officials had no immediate comment on Erekat's statement.
Netanyahu and Mitchell had met again on Friday morning in an attempt at advancing a trilateral summit.
Following the meeting, Mitchell departed for Ramallah to meet with Abbas.
It was reported that Mitchell could return for another round of talks with Netanyahu after his meeting with Abbas.
On Thursday, senior U.S. officials told Haaretz that Friday's meeting would resolve all differences in order to open the door for holding talks in New York.
Mitchell also met with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and King Abdullah II of Jordan during his current visit to the region, and asked them to exert pressure on Abbas to soften his stance so that a meeting can take place at the UN. Mitchell also asked the two Arab leaders to rally the Arab world in undertaking goodwill gestures toward Israel.
Netanyahu went on to meet with Shas spiritual leader Rabbi Ovadia Yosef at his Jerusalem home after the conclusion of his meeting with Mitchell.
Sources said that in the meeting, which was also attended by Shas chairman Eli Yishai, the spiritual leader of the religious faction congratulated the PM for his firm diplomatic stance and awarded him with a Rosh Hashanah gift.