Mitchell seeks West Bank settlements compromise

Mitchell seeks West Bank settlements compromise

Washington's special Mideast envoy was today holding talks with Israeli leaders in a bid to secure a halt to new West Bank settlement construction and put faltering peace talks back on track.

President Barack Obama dispatched George Mitchell on an emergency mission to broker a compromise that would keep Palestinians from making good on their threat to abandon the talks if Israel resumes settlement building now that a 10-month moratorium has expired.

Mitchell met Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu today and was scheduled to meet Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas a day later to try to broker a compromise.

At the start of his meeting with Mitchell, Netanyahu said he and Abbas "have an historic mission to continue those good talks" and reaffirmed his commitment to a deal that would assure Israel's security.

A string of possible compromises is apparently on the table, including restricting new construction to major West Bank settlement blocs.

Netanyahu says his pro-settlement coalition could fracture if the construction curbs, which ended Sunday, are extended.

But the Palestinians say negotiations, which resumed just four weeks ago, are pointless if growing settlements keep chipping away at lands they want for their future state.

Abbas has given the US mediation until at least Monday, when he meets Arab foreign ministers in Cairo, to try to craft an accord that would allow him to remain at the negotiating table.

An extension of the moratorium would not end all building in the West Bank. Under the terms of the curbs, projects that were already under way were allowed to continue. Even after the freeze went into effect in late November, more than 2,500 apartments were still in various stages of construction in the first quarter of this year.

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