JERUSALEM – U.S. envoy George Mitchell said on Tuesday that Washington was seeking swift renewal of Israeli-Palestinian peace talks and promised Israel its alliance with the United States would remain strong despite differences.
We all share an obligation to create the conditions for the prompt resumption and early conclusion of negotiations, Mitchell said at a meeting with Israeli President Shimon Peres.
In the most public rift between the United States and Israel in a decade, President Barack Obama and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu are at odds over Jewish settlement expansion and the Israeli leader's reluctance to endorse Palestinian statehood.
With Israelis fearing that Obama hoped to repair his country's image among Arabs by fostering a dispute with Netanyahu, Mitchell spoke in conciliatory terms to reporters.
Let me be clear. These are not disagreements among adversaries. The United States and Israel are and will remain close allies and friends, Mitchell said.
Mitchell, Obama's special envoy to the Middle East, reaffirmed Washington's commitment to the establishment of a Palestinian state side by side in peace and security with the Jewish state of Israel.
In an address to the Muslim world in Cairo last week, Obama called on Israel to stop settlement expansion in the occupied West Bank and accept the right of Palestinians to a state.
Peres, whose post is largely ceremonial, echoed Obama, saying it was time to take the bull by the horns and pursue a state for us and state for the Palestinians.
Under pressure to soften his positions, Netanyahu is to spell out his policy on peacemaking with the Palestinians in a speech on Sunday. His security cabinet was to meet on Wednesday to consider U.S. calls to ease the blockade of the Gaza Strip, territory controlled by Hamas Islamists who oppose U.S.-sponsored peace efforts.
Netanyahu was to meet later in the day with Mitchell, who will see Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on Wednesday.
Abbas has said it would be useless to resume talks with Israel unless Netanyahu froze settlement building and accepted a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Obama spoke to Netanyahu by phone on Monday. The White House said the president reiterated the principal elements of his Cairo speech, including his commitment to Israel's security.
At the meeting with Peres, Mitchell said he wanted to state emphatically beyond any doubt that the United States' commitment to the security of Israel remains unshakeable.
Netanyahu has cited Israel's security as paramount in any peace efforts and has said that any self-governing Palestinian entity must be demilitarized and have limited powers of sovereignty.
(Editing by Adam Entous and Angus MacSwan)