Netanyahu: Israel and U.S. want peace process to begin immediately
U.S. envoy Mitchell says he held 'positive and productive talks' with Israeli and Palestinian leaders.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, briefing the cabinet on his meetings with U.S. Mideast envoy George Mitchell, said Sunday that it would soon become clear whether Middle East peace talks, suspended since December 2008, would resume.
Addressing the weekly cabinet meeting, Netanyahu said Israel and the United States want to "begin a peace process immediately", and that he hoped the Palestinians shared the same goal.
"We will know in the coming days whether the process will get under way. I hope that it will indeed get under way," he said in public remarks at the cabinet session.
In a statement summing up his visit, Mitchell said he held "positive and productive talks" with Israeli and Palestinian leaders in an effort "to improve the atmosphere for peace and for proceeding with proximity talks", a reference to indirect, U.S.-mediated negotiations.
Mitchell is expected back in the region next week.
Netanyahu has given no ground publicly over U.S. and Palestinian calls to halt the construction of settlements in East Jerusalem, an issue that has driven a wedge between Israel and the United States.
The Palestinians, who want East Jerusalem as the capital of a future state in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, have demanded a settlement freeze as a condition for peace talks.
Mitchell said in the statement that his deputy, David Hale, would remain behind to work with the parties this week to prepare for his return to the region next week.
On Saturday, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas urged U.S. President Barack Obama to impose a solution to the Middle East conflict that would give the Palestinians an independent state.
Abbas' appeal to Obama came amid widespread media reports that the U.S. president was considering floating a proposal that would set the contours of a final peace deal.
Any such move would likely be opposed by Israel, which says only negotiations can secure a final settlement to the conflict.
Aides to Abbas raised the possibility that he would meet Obama in Washington next month but said no invitation had been issued yet.
On Saturday, officials involved in efforts to renew peace talks said that proximity talks between Israel and the Palestinians will start no later than mid-May.
European officials who have met in recent days with senior officials at the White House and State Department got the impression that the Obama administration did not expect that the proximity talks would produce any agreement.
The efforts to push the peace process forward are meant to allow the United States to claim some success in its Mideast policy as the region marks one year since Obama's historic address in Cairo.
Officials in Washington say that the talks with the Palestinians will force Netanyahu to reveal his positions beyond those outlined in his speech at Bar-Ilan University last June.
The Americans say that if Netanyahu takes an uncompromising stance in the negotiations, like the one he displays in public, the Labor Party might quit the coalition and pave the way for a new government.