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Grim omens as U.S. envoy pursues Mideast relaunch
Thu Oct 8, 2009 10:09am EDT
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By Douglas Hamilton
JERUSALEM (Reuters) - U.S. President Barack Obama's special peace envoy sought on Thursday an "early relaunch" of Israeli-Palestinian talks, but Israel said Washington's goal of comprehensive peace was an illusion.
With wider Muslim-Jewish tension brewing over access to holy sites in Jerusalem, Western-backed Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas struggling to restore his credibility and Islamist Hamas ascendant in the Gaza Strip, the omens for U.S. envoy George Mitchell's trip were not propitious.
"We are going to continue with our efforts to achieve an early relaunch of negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians," he told reporters as he met Israeli President Shimon Peres in Jerusalem.
Resuming talks suspended 10 months ago was "essential" for a comprehensive regional treaty involving Israel and neighbors that include Syria and Lebanon. Obama believes "there is no alternative" if the region wants peace, Mitchell said.
Desultory peace talks were derailed by the Gaza war. Obama has made their resumption a priority. He invested more political capital last month by arranging a meeting of the Israeli and Palestinian leaders in New York, but with scant results.
U.S. officials said Mitchell was back with a sense of urgency but no expectation of a breakthrough from this visit.
Mitchell was due to meet Israel Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, who began the day saying he would tell Mitchell there was no chance of a comprehensive peace deal for many years.
PEACE "AN ILLUSION"
"I will tell him clearly, there are many conflicts in the world that haven't reached a comprehensive solution and people learned to live with it," the Israel foreign minister said.
"Whoever says that it's possible to reach in the coming years a comprehensive agreement ... simply doesn't understand the reality," Lieberman said in a radio interview. "He's spreading illusions and in the end brings disappointment..."
The Palestinians say Mitchell must realize that Lieberman has now made it clear why "there will be no relaunch of negotiations any time soon," Abbas spokesman Nabil Abu Rdainah told Reuters from Rome, where Abbas is on an official visit.
"We need to hear a response to this statement, from Mitchell and from the American administration who are making efforts to salvage the peace process while faced with an Israeli government which destroys all those American efforts."
King Abdullah of Jordan, whose country has made peace with Israel and who plays an important role in advancing the peace process with the Palestinians, was quoted on Thursday as saying in an interview "we are sliding back into the darkness."
The sense of pessimism was deepened by the political weakness of President Abbas, who has angered Palestinians by agreeing under U.S. pressure not to push for action on a U.N. war crimes report critical of Israeli conduct of the Gaza war. Continued...
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