Israeli and Palestinian leaders are delving quickly into some of the most difficult issues dividing them, US special envoy to the region said on Wednesday, even as Israeli fighters bombed a tunnel and Palestinian militants launched mortar rounds into southern Israel.
Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu greeted Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas at his Jerusalem residence for two hours of talks that also included Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and US Special Envoy George Mitchell.
“They are serious, they mean business,” Mitchell said. “I’ll say that the two leaders are not leaving the tough issues to the end of their discussions. We take this as a strong indicator of their belief that peace is possible.”
The talks also face a looming crisis with September 30 expiration of a partial moratorium on Jewish settlement construction.
Palestinian officials insist they will walk out of the talks if settlement construction begins anew, and Mitchell refused to say if US was confident the Palestinians will keep talking after September. “We continue in our efforts to make progress in that regard and believe that we are doing so,” he said.
He noted that talking about delicate issues — that can include status of Jerusalem and the right of Palestinians to return to their homes — wasn’t the same as negotiating solutions. But he positively compared the experience of last two days to his work as peace envoy in the Northern Ireland conflict.
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