Netanyahu, Mitchell meet over fresh peace moves

Israeli PM and the US Middle East envoy met for several hours on Wednesday to discuss planned indirect peace talks.

Jerusalem: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the US Middle East envoy met for several hours on Wednesday to discuss planned indirect peace talks which a minister said earlier were doomed to fail.

The evening meeting between the hawkish premier and George Mitchell was believed to have focused on the planned start of the negotiations, which are likely towards the week`s end.

"They agreed to meet again on Thursday," said a statement from Netanyahu`s office in Jerusalem where the talks took place. It did not elaborate.

In Washington, State Department spokesman Philip Crowley said that the first round of talks were "good and productive”.

Mitchell has engaged in months of shuttle diplomacy in the hopes of launching the indirect talks between Israel and the Palestinians.

But Israel on Wednesday poured cold water on the prospect of success of such negotiations, with one of Netanyahu`s inner circle saying the so-called proximity talks were destined to fail.

"This won`t work... indirect talks, proximity talks will not yield results," Intelligence Minister and Deputy Prime Minister Dan Meridor said in remarks published on the front page of the Jerusalem Post.

"I hope, yes, but I think not. Everyone will want to pull America to their own side, and they won`t get closer, they will get further apart," he told the English-language daily.

"I think we need to go quickly to direct talks."

Palestinian President Mahmud Abbas will meet Mitchell on Friday.

A day later, the PLO Executive Committee will convene "and decide and say its final word," Abbas said in a statement after meeting Jordan`s King Abdullah II.

"After that, we will inform Mitchell whether we are ready to start the negotiations."

Earlier, Abbas met regional broker Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak to discuss the proximity talks with Israel, a move which has been sanctioned by the Arab League.

On Tuesday, Abbas had expressed doubts about the prospect of re-engaging with Israel after a West Bank mosque went up in flames in an incident he blamed on Jewish settlers, and ultimately, the Israeli government.

Scepticism about a fresh round of talks was widespread, with former top Palestinian negotiator Ahmad Qorei on Wednesday telling the daily Al-Quds that the process would not last very long without firm US guarantees.

"The question to be asked is: will the negotiations which are expected to be resumed, yield any results or not?" asked Qorei, a senior PLO official who headed the previous round of talks before they collapsed 18 months ago when Israel began a bloody 22-day military campaign in Gaza.

"Will it be another (failed) experience or are the Americans offering real guarantees that solutions will be reached to all the core issues such as the borders, Jerusalem, the refugees and water resources?" the Palestinian former premier asked.


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