JERUSALEM, Israel - Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Friday that Israel wants to continue direct talks with the Palestinians despite an uproar over his decision not to continue the building freeze in Judea and Samaria - the West Bank.
"We are making a joint effort with Senator [George] Mitchell to continue talks with [Palestinian President Mahmoud] Abbas," Netanyahu said at the start of a meeting with Mitchell. "We have a mission for peace."
U.S. Special envoy Mitchell was here on Friday to try to prevent the recently renewed bilateral peace talks from collapsing.
The Palestinians have threatened to quit the talks - restarted in August - if Netanyahu does not continue the freeze on construction in Judea and Samaria - an area the Palestinians want to see as their future state.
The freeze expired last Sunday at midnight after 10 months during which no new building permits were approved - though construction continued on structures that were already in process.
Abbas was scheduled to meet with Arab League foreign ministers on Monday to decide whether Palestinians should continue the talks with Israel despite the end to the freeze. That meeting has been postponed for two days to give the U.S. a chance to coax Israel into continuing the freeze.
The meeting with Mitchell comes amidst reports that President Obama had offered Israel a number of U.S. guarantees in exchange for a two month continuation of the freeze.
According to the reports, Obama sent a draft letter to Israel offing security guarantees Israel has asked for for years, including an Israeli presence in the Jordan Valley after a peace agreement is signed to prevent smuggling into the West Bank; and no pressure to continue the freeze beyond the two months once that freeze expired.
The leftwing daily Ha'aretz said the U.S. was "reportedly incensed" over Netanyahu's rejection of the letter.
But The Jerusalem Post reported that officials at both the White House and the State Department denied the existence of the letter.