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Netanyahu and Abbas likely to meet to Discuss Peace Process

Netanyahu and Abbas likely to meet to Discuss Peace Process

The Prime Minister of Israel and the Palestinian President, are likely to hold their first meeting in the coming weeks, both sides indicated yesterday, in what would be an important step toward a formal resumption of peace talks and a signal achievement for President Obama.

This comes as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu held four hours of talks yesterday with Obama’s Mideast envoy, George Mitchell, in London. Mitchell has been pressing Israel to halt construction of West Bank settlements as a confidence-building gesture toward the Palestinians, and the issue has turned into an unusually public disagreement between the two allies.

The Palestinian Authority president, Mahmoud Abbas, has said he would not resume peace talks until Israel freezes settlements, and reiterated that position in a speech yesterday. But the Israelis have been strongly hinting that Netanyahu could meet Abbas next month at the U.N. General Assembly, and yesterday, Palestinian officials in the West Bank said for the first time that such a meeting was likely.

While Abbas is prepared to talk to Netanyahu, he would not officially reopen negotiations until Israel halts its settlement activities. They spoke on condition of anonymity because nothing has been formally scheduled.

This first meeting between the two leaders, even if it did not include substantive talks, would be an important symbolic step toward the reopening of negotiations that have been suspended since shortly before Netanyahu took office in March.

Israel and the United States have been hinting that they are close to an agreement that would allow the resumption of peace talks. But in a joint statement released by the State Department in Washington after the meeting between Netanyahu and Mitchell, the two men said only that they had “made good progress” in talks and that they “agreed on the importance of restarting meaningful negotiations.”

Netanyahu has said he wants a compromise that would allow Israel to continue with some settlement construction while at the same time restarting peace talks with the Palestinians.

It is unclear what sort of compromise would be acceptable to the Americans or to the Palestinians. Netanyahu said that his representatives would be meeting with Mitchell in the United States next week and that the U.S. envoy was due back in Israel within weeks.

The Palestinians and the international community consider settlements to be obstacles to peace. About 300,000 Israelis live in West Bank settlements, in addition to 180,000 Israelis living in Jewish neighborhoods in East Jerusalem. The Palestinians claim both areas, captured by Israel in the 1967 Six-Day War, as parts of a future independent state.

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