Jerusalem: US envoy George Mitchell held talks with Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barak on Friday in the first round of a new mission to revive Middle East peace negotiations amid strains in US-Israeli relations.
Barak, of the centre-left Labour party, on Monday sounded a public alarm over the state of ties with Israel`s closest ally, saying Israel`s coalition "must act to change things”.
A statement from his office said he had talked with Mitchell for an hour "about renewing talks with the Palestinians”, but it gave no details. The statement said Barak "wished Senator Mitchell every success in his current mission”.
Mitchell was due to meet Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and later Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.
"I think we`re all now very focused on seeing what the Americans may come up with," said one European diplomat. "They`re the ones who may be able to move things along, though it`s not clear how."
A senior Israeli official played down a newspaper report that Netanyahu had proposed agreeing to Palestinian statehood with temporary borders in order to sidestep deadlock over Jewish settlements in the West Bank and east Jerusalem.
Abbas has rejected past Israeli suggestions for a state with provisional borders, but the left-wing daily Haaretz said Netanyahu was floating an interim deal to entice him back to the negotiating table, as US President Barack Obama is urging.
In Washington, State Department spokesman PJ Crowley on Thursday said the decision to dispatch Mitchell on a new mission was made after talks with Israelis and Palestinians.
"We don`t go to meet just to meet. We go there because we have some indication that both sides are willing to engage seriously on the issues," he said.