JERUSALEM (CNN) – The hopes for renewed Israeli-Palestinian talks dimmed Friday despite the fast-paced shuttle diplomacy efforts of top U.S. diplomat George Mitchell.
Mitchell, the U.S. envoy for the Middle East, capped off a week of diplomacy in the region with a second round of talks with both sides. He met Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in the West Bank city of Ramallah.
Mitchell has been working to broker a last-minute deal before the start of the the Jewish New Year, which begins at sundown on Friday, and the Muslim Eid al-Fitr holiday this weekend. The deal would allow a trilateral meeting among Netanyahu, Abbas and President Barack Obama on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly next week in New York.
One of the sticking points has been the Israeli settlement freeze issue.
The United States and Israel have publicly disagreed on Israeli plans to build more housing on land the Palestinians regard as theirs, and Obama administration demands for a complete freeze have been ignored by the Netanyahu government.
Israel recently approved the construction of 455 new units - in addition to the about 2,500 already in various stages of construction - in the West Bank, over objections of Washington.
Abbas have so far rejected resuming talks with Israel until the Jewish state halts all settlement building in the occupied West Bank and in
predominantly Palestinian East Jerusalem.
After Mitchell's meeting with Abbas on Friday, chief Palestinian negotiator, Saeb Erakat told reporters that the settlement issue has still not
"The senator informed us that there is not an agreement yet with the Israeli side," Erakat said. "And we once again reiterated that there are no
middle-ground solutions for settlements. A settlement freeze is a settlement freeze."
In an interview Thursday with Israeli Channel 2, Netanyahu downplayed the importance of Obama's calls for a settlement freeze.
"There are 2,400 units that are currently being built, and another 500 that we approved. Do you want to call that a freeze? I don't call it a freeze, I call it a slowdown in building - I am willing to do that to help the process and in parallel to preserve normal life of the residents [of the settlements]."
Earlier in the week Netanyahu said in a closed-door Knesset committee meeting that Israel would agree only to a partial reduction of housing
construction and for a limited time, not the year the United States would like, said a government official who did not want to be identified because he was not authorized to speak about the meeting.
Netanyahu said no agreement had been reached on the length of time for the building hiatus, the source told CNN.
Netanyahu has said in the past that a moratorium would not apply to East Jerusalem, which Israel claims as part of its sovereign capital since taking the territory away from Jordan during the Six Day War in 1967. Palestinians want East Jerusalem to be the capital of a future Palestinian state.