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WASHINGTON, D.C.- U.S. special envoy George Mitchell is to meet Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, the State Department said yesterday.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton spoke yesterday with Abbas ahead of Mitchell's visit.

State Department Spokesman Philip Crowley said yesterday that extensive talks had been held with the Israelis and the Palestinians on concrete steps that both parties could take to improve the atmosphere, and that Mitchell would be continuing those talks.

When asked why Mitchell had decided to come to the region at a time when Netanyahu was entrenched in his position on Jerusalem, Crowley said the Obama administration had promised that Mitchell would visit after the recent holidays in Israel. He said that talks had been held with the Israelis and the Palestinians since Mitchell's last visit, including meetings with David Hale, Mitchell's deputy, and Middle East policy adviser Dan Shapiro, and that with the conclusion of these talks yesterday, it was thought wise for Mitchell to go to the region.

Meanwhile, in a recent poll conducted by Quinnipiac University, 56 percent of respondents said they approved of what President Barack Obama was doing in Afghanistan, while 36 percent disapproved; 48 percent said they approved of his foreign policy in general, as opposed to 42 percent who did not. But when it came to Israel, 44 percent disapproved of Obama's handling of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, as opposed to 35 percent who approved.

Among Jewish respondents, the lack of support was more marked, with 67 percent expressing disapproval of Obama's Middle East policies and only 28 percent approving.

The poll conducted among 1,930 people registered voters between April 14 and April 19, found that 57 percent of Americans say their sympathies lie with Israel and 66 percent say the president should be a "strong supporter" of Israel. Currently, 42 percent believe Obama is not a strong supporter of Israel as opposed to 34 percent who believe he is.

Among Republicans, only 16 percent believe Obama is a strong supporter of Israel as opposed to 53 percent of Democrats.

Doubts about Obama's commitment to Israel increased with the age and the income levels of respondents.