EU, US press Netanyahu, Abbas over peace talks | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, October 02, 2010 / LAST MODIFIED: 12:00 AM, October 02, 2010

EU, US press Netanyahu, Abbas over peace talks

International diplomatic efforts to salvage the Middle East peace talks kicked into high gear yesterday with top EU and US officials set for a flurry of meetings in Jerusalem and Ramallah.
In Jerusalem, EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton was meeting with Israel's Benjamin Netanyahu shortly after the Israeli premier had sat down for talks with US envoy George Mitchell, EU and Israeli officials said.
Speaking at the start of the meeting, Netanyahu reiterated his desire to continue the talks despite his recent refusal to extend curbs on settlement building in the West Bank -- a move which may well scupper the negotiations.
"We are making efforts together with Senator Mitchell to continue to hold talks with President Abbas," he said in a statement. "We want the talks to continue and I want that. We have a mission of peace."
Ashton had on Thursday met with Abbas shortly after arriving for 24 hours of intensive talks as part of US and EU efforts to rescue peace negotiations, which began on September 2 but face collapse over settlement building.
Early on Friday, she also held a breakfast meeting with Palestinian prime minister Salam Fayyad in the West Bank city of Ramallah.
Mitchell was also working the diplomatic scene, holding talks morning with Netanyahu, before he set off for Ramallah for more discussions with Abbas at about 2:00 pm (1200 GMT), a Palestinian official said.
On Saturday, he was to return to Jerusalem for further talks with Netanyahu, Israel public radio said.
Mitchell and Abbas had held two hours of discussions at the Palestinian leader's Muqataa headquarters on Thursday, but there was no word about the outcome.
"We are determined to continue our efforts to find common ground between the parties to enable the direct negotiations to continue," Mitchell said afterwards, pledging to "continue our efforts intensively" in the coming days.
Both Mitchell and Ashton are fighting to persuade Abbas to stick with the negotiations despite Israel's refusal to extend restrictions on settlement building.
They are also hoping to persuade Netanyahu to reimpose the building ban -- a step that until now he has steadfastly declined to take, largely due to internal political constraints.
The flurry of diplomatic activity came as Israeli media dissected reports Netanyahu had turned down a comprehensive package of benefits in exchange for a two-month extension of the freeze, laid out in a letter from US President Barack Obama.
The White House denied the existence of any letter, and Israeli officials refused to comment on the reports, which emerged earlier this week.
Israel's refusal to extend the moratorium has brought the fledgling talks to the brink of collapse, with the Palestinians threatening to walk out if more Jewish settlements are built on land they want for a future state.
The moratorium expired on Sunday, but the Palestinians have said they will reserve a final decision on whether to withdraw from the talks until after Abbas has conferred with Arab foreign ministers.

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