U.S. renews Mideast peace bid after holiday break

JERUSALEM Mon Jan 3, 2011 9:05am EST

Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends a Foreign Affairs and Defence Committee meeting at the Knesset, the Israeli parliament, in Jerusalem January 3, 2011. REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun

Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends a Foreign Affairs and Defence Committee meeting at the Knesset, the Israeli parliament, in Jerusalem January 3, 2011.

Credit: Reuters/Ronen Zvulun

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JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Monday senior U.S. officials will return to the Middle East this week to renew peacemaking efforts with Israel and the Palestinians.

Direct peace talks collapsed late last year in a dispute over Jewish settlement building in the occupied West Bank, part of the land Palestinians seek for a state.

Netanyahu said White House Middle East aide Dennis Ross and other U.S. officials would arrive later in the week. On Thursday, Netanyahu plans to hold talks in Egypt with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.

"Our goal is one, to strengthen security and reach peace," Netanyahu told members of his Likud party.

Speaking earlier to parliament's Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, Netanyahu again accused the Palestinians of holding up peace negotiations.

"The problem is not settlements, but the lack of their (Palestinians') readiness to recognize Israel as the Jewish state," Netanyahu said.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said on Friday that he expected Washington to do more to confront Israeli settlement building and demanded construction stop in order for peace talks to restart.

Palestinians fear settlements, built on land Israel captured in a 1967 war, will deny them a viable and contiguous state. Israel says the future of the enclaves should be decided in peace talks and a building freeze should not be a precondition for negotiations.

(Writing by Maayan Lubell; Editing by Noah Barkin)

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