Barak Ravid
June 10, 2009 - 12:00am

The U.S. must create the conditions for the speedy resumption of Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, Washington's envoy to the region said Wednesday in Ramallah, as he assured Palestinians that America would never abandon their "legitimate aspirations."

"The only viable solution for this conflict is for the aspirations of both sides to be met in two states," former U.S. senator Mitchell told journalists after meeting Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in the West Bank city.

"The U.S. has an obligation to create conditions for the prompt resumption and early conclusion of negotiations," he said, adding that "America will not turn our back to the legitimate Palestinians aspirations for dignity, opportunity and a state of their own."

Israelis and Palestinians, he said, had to meet their obligations under the international Road Map peace plan.

"It is in their interest as well as the interest of other countries in the region," he said.

The road map, a performance-based initiative, outlines a series of steps the sides have to take, culminating in a Palestinian state being established alongside Israel.

Although Israel has previously accepted the road map, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has yet to explicitly endorse the establishment of a Palestinian state, and has rejected the U.S. demand, which is also an Israeli obligation under the peace plan, to halt all settlement activity.

During his talks with Abbas, U.S. special envoy George Mitchell was reported to have introduced the possibility of a territorial exchange in the West Bank as part of the peace process.

An aide to Abbas later denied that the two had discussed the idea of a land exchange - of offering the Palestinians Ma'aleh Adumim and the Gush Etzion settlement bloc, as reported by the BBC.

On Tuesday, Mitchell met with Netanyahu, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman and Defense Minister Ehud Barak.

The former U.S. senator and broker of the Good Friday peace agreement in Northern Ireland communicated the Obama administration's desire to see the Gaza crossings reopened so as to enable the entry of building materials for post-war reconstruction.

Mitchell added that Washington understands the need for proper border inspections that will ensure no building material be used by Hamas. The U.S. seeks to involve Hamas' rival, Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, in the process so that the crossings' reopening not be interpreted as a Hamas achievement, Mitchell said.

Mitchell also reiterated on Tuesday that the Obama administration is adamantly insisting on a freeze of construction in all Israeli settlements in the West Bank.

Mitchell said that opposition to Israel's settlement policy has been Washington's position for the last 40 years, and that the administration had no intention of backing down on the demand for a total freeze.

During their meeting on Tuesday, Netanyahu told Mitchell: "Israel is acting to advance peace and security with the Palestinians and with the Arab world."

In his round of meetings with senior Israeli officials on Tuesday, Mitchell demonstrated a more moderate tack in discussing his government's disagreements with Jerusalem over West Bank settlements.

Mitchell assured Israel on Tuesday that Washington would remain its close ally despite differences over West Bank settlements and peacemaking with the Palestinians.

Mitchell said the U.S. commitment to Israeli security is unshakable, adding, "We come here to talk not as adversaries and in disagreement, but as friends in discussion."

The envoy made the comments Netanyahu at his side before a meeting with the premier Tuesday evening.

Earlier Tuesday, Mitchell told President Shimon Peres his goal was to create conditions for "prompt resumption and early conclusion" of talks leading to the establishment of a Palestinian state "side by side in peace and security with the Jewish state of Israel".

"Let me be clear. These are not disagreements among adversaries. The United States and Israel are and will remain close allies and friends," Mitchell said. He later voiced the same sentiment.


American Task Force on Palestine - 1634 Eye St. NW, Suite 725, Washington DC 20006 - Telephone: 202-262-0017