Frosty US-Israeli talks end without thaw

15Jan

Talks between the US and Israel appeared to have failed, following Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s visit to America ending without resolving a rift over settlements in Jerusalem.

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US officials said last minute talks between Mr Netanyahu and the US Middle East peace envoy George Mitchell had not ended tensions over Israel’s construction of settlements in pats of Jerusalem.

The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because the closed-door talks were confidential.

US and Israeli officials said the talks were aimed at getting Israeli-Palestinian peace talks back on track.

Netanyahu had extended his stay by hours to work on a deal, but the talks ended at about 8pm without any announcements, one official said.

The two sides had hoped to come up with mutually acceptable ideas to improve an atmosphere poisoned by announcements of the new Jewish housing projects.

Netanyahu twice pushed back his departure from Washington after talks with President Barack Obama, Vice President Joe Biden and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton failed to reach consensus on what Israel could do to repair damage caused by the housing announcements.

During Netanyahu’s frosty visit, “the US made clear it is looking for steps to increase confidence and show commitment to the process”, said Mark Toner, the deputy State Department spokesman.

Earlier Wednesday, the Obama administration challenged Israel to explain yet another announced plan to expand Jewish housing in east Jerusalem, the same issue that soured US-Israeli relations ahead of Netanyahu’s three-day visit to Washington this week.

Palestinians claim east Jerusalem as the capital of a future independent state, and the United States sees continued Israeli building there as a provocation that makes peace negotiations harder.

Netanyahu offered no concessions during his visit on an earlier plan to build 1,600 homes for Jews in the disputed part of the city.

Netanyahu’s government has refused to back off steady expansion of Jewish neighbourhoods in the majority Arab city section.

An aide to Netanyahu said the prime minister was caught off guard by the announcement Wednesday that the Jerusalem municipality has approved 20 new apartments for Jews.

Mitchell returned to the US on Tuesday from talks with Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas on the West Bank, apparently without agreement on when the Palestinians would be willing to open a new round of US-mediated talks.

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