Jerusalem: US President Barack Obama`s special peace envoy sought 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," Mitchell told reporters as he met Israeli President Shimon Peres in Jerusalem.
Resuming talks suspended 10 months ago was "essential" for a comprehensive regional peace involving Israel and neighbors that include Syria and Lebanon. If the region wanted peace, Mitchell said, Obama believes "there is no alternative" to that.
Obama has made peace talks, called off over the Gaza war, a foreign policy priority. He invested political capital in it last month when he organized a meeting of the Israeli and Palestinian leaders in New York, but with scant results.
U.S. officials said there were no expectations of a breakthrough from the visit, but there was a sense of urgency.
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.
"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 that means the end of conflict, that both sides sign on the end of conflict, simply doesn`t understand the reality," Lieberman said in a radio interview.
"He`s spreading illusions and in the end brings disappointment and drags us into comprehensive confrontation."
"What is possible to reach is a long-term intermediate agreement ... that leaves the tough issues for a much later stage," Lieberman said, referring to such issues as the future status of Jerusalem, Palestinian refugees and state borders.