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Mitchell in Israel to jumpstart talks

US Middle East envoy George Mitchell met with Israeli President Shimon Peres on Sunday and sounded optimistic that a deal on settlements could boost peace talks before the end of the month.

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Mr. Alpher says that the sides have given no indication of how long the settlement moratorium will last and what type of building activity it will cover.

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For example, Israel has resisted limits on building in East Jerusalem, a portion of the West Bank which the Jewish state annexed in 1967 as part of its capital.

Meeting in Cairo  

Following a summit Sunday in Cairo between Netanyahu and Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, the prime minister's office released a statement that the two leaders agreed that Israel, the Palestinians, Arab states, and the international community all have to do their part to advance the peace process.

"We're making progress. There are some areas where work is still required," said Mark Regev, a spokesman for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. "We want to find together with the Americans a package that will allow the peace process to restart with greater energy.... It is also important what the Arab side is going to bring to the table."

Mitchell also held a meeting Sunday with Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, the controversial ultra-nationalist political leader who has repeatedly expressed deep skepticism and blunt criticism about peace talks. Mr. Lieberman has been largely sidelined as an interlocutor with the US in favor of Defense Minister Ehud Barak.

Palestinians waiting for a full settlement freeze

It has been widely reported that Mr. Obama is hoping to host a three-way meeting with Mr. Abbas and Netanyahu on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly at the end of the month to signal the restarting of the talks.

But the Palestinians so far have refused to rejoin peace talks until Israel consents to a full settlement freeze. Israel has only signaled that it will agree to a temporary moratorium that excludes about 3,000 apartment units at varying stages of construction. Those are conditions which would be very difficult for Abbas to accept, say analysts.

"Abbas is in a difficult position. People are saying, 'You are sitting to talk about what?' Everybody is saying the Israel is not changing," says Mohammed Dajani, a political science professor at Al Quds University. "What needs to be done is that people in the policy process should show good will. But if they continue to build settlements, and continue confiscating land, what is left to talk about?"

Peres: 'The time may be right'

Promoting successful Israeli-Palestinian peace talks is considered a central element of the Obama administration's effort to build an international coalition to confront Iran on its nuclear program.

Even the renewal of the talks would count as a diplomatic achievement for the White House. Standing by Mitchell's side less than a day after being hospitalized for fainting, Peres urged Israel and the US to move ahead.

"I think that the time may be right to do so," he said. "There are still some remaining differences but they are manageable and if we shall miss this opportunity we shall remain without a date" for peace talks.