No sign of breakthrough in U.S. Mideast peace mission

JERUSALEM Sun Oct 11, 2009 11:56am EDT

Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (L) meets U.S. envoy George Mitchell in Jerusalem October 9, 2009, in this picture released by the Israeli Government Press Office (GPO). REUTERS/Moshe Milner/GPO/Handout

Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (L) meets U.S. envoy George Mitchell in Jerusalem October 9, 2009, in this picture released by the Israeli Government Press Office (GPO).

Credit: Reuters/Moshe Milner/GPO/Handout

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JERUSALEM (Reuters) - A U.S. presidential envoy ended a Middle East shuttle mission on Sunday with no sign of any imminent resumption of Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.

The envoy, George Mitchell, met Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for a second time after talks on Friday and a visit to Cairo, where the former U.S. senator held discussions with Egypt's intelligence chief and its foreign minister.

A statement issued by Netanyahu's office after his latest meeting with Mitchell said two Israeli negotiators would make another trip to Washington in the coming week to continue talks on moving peace efforts forward.

U.S. President Barack Obama, who won the Nobel Peace Prize on Friday, has said Secretary of State Hillary Clinton would report to him by mid-October on Mitchell's attempts to revive Israeli-Palestinian peace talks suspended since December.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has demanded that Israel abide by a 2003 peace "road map" and freeze settlement activity on occupied land where Palestinians hope to build a state. Abbas and Mitchell held talks in the occupied West Bank on Friday.

"It has been and remains an important objective of American policy and of President Obama and the secretary of state personally to achieve comprehensive peace in the Middle East," Mitchell told reporters in Cairo, before traveling to Jerusalem for his second meeting with Netanyahu.

"We understand that there are many difficulties, that there are many obstacles. But we are determined and committed to continue our efforts until that objective is reached," he said.

CONSTRUCTION

Resisting U.S. pressure, Netanyahu has pledged to continue some construction in settlements in the West Bank and for Jews in Arab East Jerusalem, areas captured in a 1967 war, saying he must meet the needs of growing settler families.

Obama, who had demanded a "freeze," asked Israel only for "restraint" on settlement when he met Netanyahu and Abbas in New York last month for talks that did not amount to a formal resumption of peace negotiations.

Israel and the Palestinians also differ over where to pick up negotiations conducted over the course of a year between Abbas and Israel's previous prime minister, Ehud Olmert, after a peace conference in Annapolis, Maryland, in November 2007.

Netanyahu has said he is not bound by any territorial proposals his centrist predecessor made in those talks.

Netanyahu's right-leaning coalition government includes some nationalists for whom the very idea of Palestinian independence in the West Bank, territory which Israel captured from Jordan in a 1967 war, is anathema.

Abbas has credibility problems, as his armed Islamist Hamas rivals control the Gaza Strip and rule out any permanent peace accord with the Jewish state.

Since his appointment in January, Mitchell, 76, has visited Israel and the West Bank nine times. The missions have been stymied by Netanyahu's refusal to halt construction in settlements and by Arab states' reluctance to make peace overtures.

(Additional reporting by Cairo bureau, Editing by Alison Williams)

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