Washington's special envoy to the Mideast pressed ahead Sunday with his efforts to get
Israel and the Palestinians talking peace again, going back to Israel's prime minister after the Palestinians refused to return to the negotiating table, AP reported.
The U.S. official,
George Mitchell, has been trying for a year to rekindle talks, but his mission has stalled over Israeli settlement construction. Last week, President Barack Obama acknowledged he underestimated the domestic political forces at play in the region and overreached in expecting a quick breakthrough in Mideast peacemaking.
Mahmoud Abbas is standing firm by his demand that Israel freeze all construction in the West Bank and east Jerusalem before he resumes talks, which broke off more than a year ago.
Israeli Prime Minister
Benjamin Netanyahu has agreed to slow construction in the West Bank, but has not halted it totally or imposed any limitations on building in east Jerusalem.
Israel annexed that sector of the city, home to sacred Jewish, Muslim and Christian sites, shortly after capturing it and the West Bank from Jordan in the 1967 Mideast war. The international community does not recognize the annexation and the Palestinians claim east Jerusalem for their future capital.
Mitchell arrived in the region late last week in yet another attempt to break the logjam and met separately with Netanyahu and Abbas. Early Sunday, he met with Netanyahu again; it wasn't immediately clear if Mitchell would hold another meeting with Abbas in Jordan as planned.
The Israeli leader heads a coalition largely opposed to the sweeping territorial concessions that would be necessary to clinch a peace deal with the Palestinians. He himself had long refused to endorse the concept of Palestinian statehood, doing so only in June under intense U.S. pressure.
The Palestinians are afraid that Washington's inability to get Israel to even temporarily freeze settlement construction augurs ill for any Israeli concessions on tougher issues like partitioning Jerusalem.
Abbas is also worried his already battered standing among the Palestinian people would suffer further if he resumes talks without at least a settlement freeze. The Palestinian leader is locked in a fierce rivalry with Islamic Hamas militants who overran the Gaza Strip in 2007 and believe only violence, not negotiations, will pressure Israel to yield war-won land.