U.S. Envoy Pushing for Israeli-Palestinian Talks

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JERUSALEM, Israel - U.S. Special Middle East envoy George Mitchell is in Israel pushing for the start of Israeli-Palestinian proximity talks, media reports said on Friday.

The U.S. is hoping the so-called "proximity" talks - talks through a U.S. mediator - will lead the two parties back to direct negotiations and a final agreement on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, although there has been some speculation that the U.S. might use the talks to impose a solution on the two sides.

Talks between Israel and the Palestinians have been frozen for more than a year. 

The Jerusalem Post quoted an American official saying that Mitchell, in the region for a three-day visit, "is here to work with both sides to advance the proximity talks."

Backing Palestinian Demands

The U.S. has been backing a Palestinian demand that Israel freeze construction in Jewish neighborhoods in eastern Jerusalem, where Palestinians want to see the capital of a future Palestinian state.

But Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reiterated his refusal to do so in an Israeli television interview on Thursday evening.

"There won't be a [building] freeze in [east] Jerusalem," Netanyahu said. "This is a red line, and I'm not crossing it."

The liberal Israeli daily Ha'aretz said on Friday that Netanyahu was "amenable" to an interim agreement with the Palestinians in the West Bank, the area Israelis call Judea and Samaria, including the establishment of a Palestinian state with temporary borders.

That would enable them to declare statehood without actually working out the details of borders with the Israelis.

Step to Restart Talks 

According to the paper, Netanyahu could consider the step as a way to unfreeze the political process with the Palestinians. But the paper said Netanyahu would insist that discussions on the final status of Jerusalem - the thorniest issues in the decades old conflict - be delayed until the end of the process.

One Israeli official said the idea of a Palestinian state with temporary borders has been out there for years and is actually part of the Road Map peace plan - supported by the Quartet - the U.S., European Union, Russia and the United Nations.

But, the official told CBN News that it is not on the table as part of discussions with U.S. Special Envoy George Mitchell due to take place on Friday.

Jordan's King Abdullah II said recently that if there is no political progress soon, there will be a war in July. Some Israeli security experts also agree.

'Climbed Up a Tree'

In Thursday's television interview, Netanyahu said that progress in the Israeli-Palestinian political process doesn't depend on Israel but rather it was the Palestinians who "climbed up a tree."

"I'm saying that moving the political process forward is first and foremost our desire," Netanyahu said. "No one needs to prod us.
 
"Now, with regard to the likelihood of war - we don't want war; we do not seek war," he said.

Netanyahu said that Iran is meddling directly and indirectly through the Lebanese-based terrorist organization Hezbollah.
 
"Through this meddling, Iran is trying to convince Syria that Israel is about to attack them.  This is a lie," he said. "If a lie is repeated often enough, even good people and good leaders may begin mistakenly to repeat it.  Israel wants peace.  Israel does not want war."

Israeli reports have said that Syria has transferred Scud-C missiles to Hezbollah - capable of hitting anywhere in Israel.

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Julie Stahl

Julie Stahl

Correspondent, CBN News Jerusalem Bureau

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