Al-Jazeera English
April 16, 2009 - 12:00am

The US special envoy to the Middle East is meeting senior Israeli officials in an attempt to kickstart the stalled Israeli-Palestinian peace process.

George Mitchell met Avigdor Lieberman, Israel's foreign minister, on Thursday and will meet Benyamin Netanyahu, the country's prime minister, later in the day.

Mitchell is also expected to discuss progress on peace negotiations with Tzipi Livni, leader of the opposition Kadima party.

Shortly after arriving in the country on Wednesday evening, Mitchell met Ehud Barak, Israel's defence minister.

Commitment urged

Netanyahu said on Sunday that his government will resume peace talks with Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president, but has not committed to the idea of a two-state solution.

The new Israeli administration has also not ordered the stopping the building of Jewish settlements on occupied Palestinian land.

The US and the European Union have repeatedly called on Netanyahu to hold fresh talks with Abbas and signal that his government is focused on establishing a Palestinian state alongside Israel.

"This is something that [US President Barack] Obama has overtly, clearly and unambiguously committed himself to in speeches that he made to Europe in the last few weeks," Jacky Rowland, Al Jazeera's correspondent in Jerusalem, said.

"He really did state the US commitment to the two-state solution as being the shape for a final agreement between the Palestinians and the Israelis."

However, Netanyahu has said that he wants any talks with Abbas to focus mainly on security and economic issues.

Furthermore, Lieberman, an Israeli nationalist, has flatly rejected a restart of the Israeli-Palestinian talks launched in 2007 by then-US President George Bush.

Mitchell is set to meet Abbas and other Palestinian leaders in the Israeli-occupied West Bank on Friday.

Jerusalem march

Mitchell's talks on Thursday coincided with a march by nationalist Jews towards the compound of al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem.

Hundreds of people headed to the site to hold a prayer vigil there, angering Palestinians living in the city.

The Palestinian cabinet responded by calling on Palestinians to head to the mosque to defend it.

None of the Jews who marched to al-Aqsa mosque actually entered the compound, our correspondent reported.

"There was a threat - and it was taken seriously - because the whole of the old city of Jerusalem has been cordoned off by police," she said.

"But we have not seen any attempt by Jews to enter the al-Aqsa compound. If you like, there has been a bogus threat, purely designed to provoke the Palestinian side and cause them inconvenience.

"It is a very interesting example of how a threat by a Jewish group, many of them living in illegal settlements, can make the Israeli police jump into action and cause very strong feelings on the part of the Palestinians living in Jerusalem."


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