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Mitchell lands in Israel, rival Palestinian factions talk in Cairo

The US envoy arrives at a time when Israelis and Palestinians seem most absorbed with fixing their own houses before dealing with their neighbors.

By Ilene R. Prusher / February 26, 2009

US envoy George Mitchell met with Israel's Likud party leader Benjamin Netanyahu, who is poised to become the country's next prime minister.

Baz Ratner/Reuters

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Staff Writer

JERUSALEM – Special Envoy George Mitchell touched down here Thursday for the second time since he was entrusted by President Obama last month with the daunting task of bringing Israelis and Palestinians back to long-scuttled peace talks.

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But the veteran negotiator arrives at a time when both peoples seem most absorbed with fixing their own houses before turning in earnest toward dealing with their neighbors.

Rival Palestinian factions Hamas and Fatah were meeting in Cairo Thursday, having relaunched a reconciliation dialogue that some hope will lead to a national unity government. In Israel, Likud party leader Benjamin Netanyahu is in the process of trying to form a coalition government, and was still vacillating between two options, either of which could have a major impact on Israel's outlook in the peace process that Mr. Mitchell will oversee.

(Read more about Mr. Netanyahu's progress here.)

Netanyahu has the option of forming a hard-line alliance of right-wing parties who are ready to support him as the next prime minister, or of offering a more attractive and powerful role Tzipi Livni, the leader of the Kadima party.

Mitchell meets with Mideast leaders

Mitchell met with both Ms. Livni and Netanyahu Thursday afternoon, following a stopover in Turkey in which he met with Prime Minster Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Mitchell will also be meeting with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Defense Minister Ehud Barak, both of whom will be stepping down from their posts as soon as Netanyahu presents a government, or block that includes a majority of seats in the 120-seat parliament.

On Friday, Mitchell is to focus on Palestinians in the West Bank, and is scheduled to meet Palestinian Authority (PA) Prime Minister Salaam Fayyad as well as PA President Mahmoud Abbas.

Mitchell is already well-versed in the problems of the region: his highly acclaimed report in 2001 on the breakdown of the peace process and the advent of the second intifada was widely received as balanced and informative. But many norms have changed since he was last deeply involved in the region's politics.

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