and the Palestinians agreed to start indirect, American-brokered talks, the U.S. Mideast envoy announced Monday. Mitchell, who is visiting the region, said in a statement that he hoped the indirect talks "will lead to direct negotiations as soon as possible."
Additionally, he appealed to the two sides not do to anything that could jeopardize the talks. "We also again encourage the parties, and all concerned, to refrain from any statements or actions which may inflame tensions or prejudice the outcome of these talks," said Mitchell, who is expected to shuttle between Israel and the Palestinian territories over the next several weeks.
His comments came as Israel authorized the construction of new apartments in the West Bank. Palestinian negotiator accused Israel of trying to undermine the talks even before they began. "If the Israeli government wants to sabotage Mitchell's efforts by taking such steps, let's talk to Mitchell about maybe not doing this (indirect talks) if the price is so high," Erekat said, according to the AP.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu sounded upbeat after his meeting with the U.S. envoy Monday. "I believe we will succeed in advancing the diplomatic process," the Israeli leader said. "But the diplomatic process is not a game, it is real, and rooted first and foremost in (Israel's) security."
Later Monday, the Israeli leader welcomed the new start to negotiations in a speech in Jerusalem, saying: "I hope the proximity talks will quickly lead to direct talks that would really allow the promotion of peace."
He stressed, however, that negotiations would only succeed if the Palestinians recognize Israel as a Jewish state and that Israel's security be guaranteed.