Slobodan Lekic
The Washington Post
January 12, 2010 - 1:00am

BRUSSELS -- U.S. envoy George Mitchell urged European and other international donors on Tuesday to help the Palestinian Authority finance its institution-building program as it prepares to set up a Palestinian state.

After meeting with America's partners in the quest for a solution to the Israel-Palestinian conflict, Mitchell said President Barack Obama was committed to achieving peace in the Middle East.

"Central to the effort is resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict on the basis of two states," Mitchell told reporters.

"To that end we stressed coordination and working together to support the Palestinian Authority's program to build the institutions of a future state," he said. "No one country and no one person can do this alone."

The meeting in Brussels came as the Obama administration gears up to try to relaunch stalled Israeli-Palestinian talks. The consultations involved the foreign ministers of France, Spain and Norway, which chairs the international donors' grouping.

Also taking part were Tony Blair, the international Mideast envoy, and Catherine Ashton, the European Union's incoming foreign policy chief.

The European Union is the largest donor to the Palestinian Authority, contributing more than one billion euros last year to help cover its budget and finance economic development.

"We have to see that the institutions that are the embryo of what will become the (Palestinian) state have to be supported," Norway's Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Stoere said.

"We feel confident that donors will again rally to the challenge and stand up to support a Palestinian state living side by side by Israel," he said.

Western-backed Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, an internationally respected economist, has announced plans to build institutions regardless of progress in peace talks, aiming to be ready for statehood in two years.

Talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority broke off a year ago, mainly over the issue of Israeli settlements on occupied Palestinian land. Israel committed to a full settlement freeze under a 2003 peace plan but did not meet that obligation. The Palestinians say there is no point negotiating while Israel expands the settlements.

Past efforts by the Obama administration have failed to get Israel to halt construction of Jewish settlements in the West Bank and east Jerusalem. Israel captured both from Jordan in the 1967 Mideast war.

Instead, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has agreed to a 10-month moratorium on new construction in just the West Bank. Israel continues to build for Jews in east Jerusalem.

The Obama administration has recently suggested bypassing the settlement issue by getting the two sides to discuss the borders of a Palestinian state. U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton has said that by focusing on the endgame, such talks would defuse the problem of settlements.

But in Ramallah, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on Tuesday spurned the U.S. effort to revive the peace talks, sticking to his position that he will not resume negotiations unless Israel freezes settlement construction.


Associated Press correspondents Ben Hubbard in Ramallah and Ian MacDougall in Oslo, Norway, contributed to this report.


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