U.S.: Return to Peace Talks Not Yet in Sight

Israel and Palestinians unlikely to make breakthrough following visit by peace envoy George Mitchell.

The U.S. government said that Israel and the Palestinians were unlikey to make an immediate return to mediated talks following a visit to the region by U.S. peace envoy George Mitchell, which began Friday.

"Are we expecting a breakthrough this visit? Probably not," said State Department spokesman Philip Crowley on Friday.

Crowley's comments came after Mitchell held meetings Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, President Shimon Peres, Defense Minister Ehud Barak, and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on Friday.

The ultimate goal was to arrive at direct negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians, Crowley said.

"I've said many times, there's only one path to a peace agreement and that is through direct negotiations."

But it was too early to predict a return to negotiations, Crowley said.

"Are we trying to move the parties to a point where they agree to proximity talks and to begin to address the substance, the core issues of the process? We hope we're getting closer to that point, but there's still work to do."

He added: "We're trying to move them in that direction. But we're not there yet."

Ahead of his meeting with Abbas, Mitchell told reporters that comprehensive peace in the region was just be a dream.

"It must be and can be a reality. We want to make that reality happen, and soon, not in some vague and distant future time," Mitchell said. "Despite the challenges, the U.S. will persevere until we reach our common goal of Israel and a Palestinian state living side by side in peace."

Earlier on Friday, Mitchell met in Jerusalem with Peres, who stressed that neither Israelis nor Palestinians want peace to be waitlisted.

"Your arrival to the region is a symbolic green light to continue with the peace process," Peres told Mitchell.

The president added that if Palestinians are doubtful of Israel's desire for peace, they can look at the peace agreements that Israel had signed with Egypt and Jordan.

Peres said that peace was an essential interest to both Israelis and Palestinians, "not only because we don't want to govern another people, but because we don't want to see the conflict destroy our future".

In a separate meeting, Netanyahu told the U.S. envoy that Israel was intent on advancing efforts to reach a peace settlement with the Palestinian Authority and that he hoped the Palestinians would be respond positively.

"I look forward to working with the Obama administration to move peace forward," Netanyahu told Mitchell at the beginning of the meeting. "We are serious about it, we know you are serious about it and we hope the Palestinians respond."

The meeting, which the Prime Minister's Office said went well, did not end with the announcemenrt of a new round of talks, with another meeting between the two scheduled for Sunday.

Poll: U.S. Jews skeptical over Obama's Mideast policy

As Mitchell began the latest American attempt to mediate a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, poll findings showed U.S. citizens reluctant to endorse the Obama administrations' Middle East strategy.

In a survey conducted by Quinnipiac University, 44 per cent of respondents 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 per cent expressing disapproval of Obama's Middle East policies and only 28 per cent approving.

Fifty-seven per cent of those polled said their sympathies lie with Israel and 66 per cent said the president should be a "strong supporter" of Israel. Currently, 42 per cent believe Obama is not a strong supporter of Israel as opposed to 34 per cent who believe he is.

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

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

The poll was conducted among 1,930 people registered voters between April 14 and April 19,