Top U.S. Officials: Mideast Peace Talks Have Hit Impasse

Palestinians: U.S. backing Israeli refusal to halt settlement expansion killed renewal of peace talks.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will meet with U.S. special envoy George Mitchell again Monday afternoon in an attempt to find a way to allow the Palestinians to return to the negotiating table. Senior U.S. officials admit that the talks have reached an impasse.

Mitchell met Sunday with Netanyahu's senior aide Yitzhak Molcho and later held consultations with his own advisers. A source in the Prime Minister's Office said the Palestinians were clearly the problem, adding that there was full agreement between Israel and the United States.

Netanyahu Sunday hit out at the Palestinian Authority over its demand for a complete Israeli settlement freeze before embarking on any fresh peace talks, saying he hoped the Palestinians would "get a grip" and drop this precondition.

"We've done things that have not been done until today, although while we are taking steps toward negotiations, we have encountered preconditions demanded by the Palestinian side, which were never demanded before," Netanyahu said at the start of the weekly cabinet meeting.

The prime minister's comments came after visiting U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said on Saturday that Israel was making "unprecedented" concessions on West Bank settlement construction.

Netanyahu told the cabinet: "Beginning negotiations is important to us, but it is no less important to the Palestinians. We are committed to negotiations, and we hope that the Palestinians will lift the precondition."

The Palestinians, however, have rejected Israel's offer to reduce settlement construction, rather than bringing it to a complete halt.

Pointing an accusing finger at the United States, the Palestinians said Sunday that Washington's backing for Israeli refusal to halt Jewish settlement expansion had killed any hope of reviving peace negotiations soon.

Netanyahu has proposed limiting building for now to some 3,000 settler homes already approved by Israel in the West Bank.

U.S. President Barack Obama himself, after persuading Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in September to meet Netanyahu in New York, called only for "restraint" in settlement, not the previously proposed "freeze."

Stung by Obama's about-face and Clinton's remarks, the Palestinians voiced their frustration.

"The negotiations are in a state of paralysis, and the result of Israel's intransigence and America's back-pedaling is that there is no hope of negotiations on the horizon," Abbas spokesman Nabil Abu Rdainah said.

He said the Palestinians were calling for the Arab League to formulate a "unified Palestinian-Arab position" on the stalled peace process.

Meanwhile, leaders of Jordan and Egypt yesterday warned that Israel's unilateral actions in Jerusalem and other occupied Palestinian lands were "derailing" efforts to resume peace negotiations with the Palestinians and would have a "catastrophic" effect on the region.

The remarks came in a communique at the end of a visit to Cairo by Jordan's King Abdullah II, who held talks with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, according to Jordan's Petra news agency.