Ma'an News Agency
September 23, 2009 - 12:00am

An inglorious beginning to peace talks was kicked off with what some described as a “civil” meeting between President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Tuesday.

The two leaders reportedly stated their previous positions of stalemate, while the US diplomatic machine put its gears into drive and arranged for US special envoy George Mitchell to return to the region after he failed to convince sides to sit down in New York. Teams of Israeli and Palestinian negotiators will also travel to Washington for a resumption of efforts.

Palestinians and Israeli sides, however, have shown no willingness to change their positions and it was not clear how US President Barack Obama planned to bring both sides together.

Some said Obama showed impatience at the “foot dragging” around the resumption of talks, and in public statements the US president said approaching the issue with a sense of “urgency” was the only way the process may see success.

International and Israeli press have begun speculating on actual means of bringing the two sides to an agreement, with one Israeli paper quoting an unnamed Palestinian source as saying Palestinians received a “commitment from the American administration that there would be no construction in the settlements,” as long as talks continued.

The same article launched what is sure to be the next round of tit-for-tat blaming, noting, "Americans understand there is only one obstacle – Netanyahu and his policy." Following the failure of Mitchell’s efforts to bring sides to the table Israeli and Palestinian leaders exchanged statements over who was to blame over the failure to restart talks.

Media reports on rumored secret deals between the three parties, mainly around settlements and normalization with Arab states, seemed to suggest internal mechanisms were at work that may secure some kind of success for talks, but statements from leaders give no hint that the secret deals are in fact reality.

In a report in the Washington Times on Tuesday Netanyahu’s media adviser, Nir Hefetz, was quoted as saying Netanyahu would not support a settlement freeze, because he considers the settlements to be a "Zionist enterprise" essential to the state of Israel.

The same article discussed a rumored “secret offer” to halt settlement construction. On Wednesday the idea that a settlement freeze had secretly been negotiated seemed further quashed when AP quoted Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman - a settler himself - that the meeting in New York had been a victory for settlers as Israel “rebuffed” demands that settlement construction be halted.


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