During the trilateral meeting in New York, beyond a cool handshake, there were no signs of progress toward restarting peace talks.
Facing strong Israeli resistance over its demand for a full settlement freeze, the US seems to play down the key issue as a precondition to restart the so-called Middle East peace talks.
Speaking to reporters following a trilateral meeting, hosted by US President Barack Obama, with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and acting Palestinian Authority chief Mahmoud Abbas on Tuesday, the US Middle East envoy asserted that a full Israeli freeze on settlement construction on the occupied Palestinian land is not essential for the resumption of the Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.
George Mitchell’s remarks, in sharp contrast with Washington’s stance on the issue in recent months, disappointed Palestinian officials who have repeatedly said that they will agree with the resumption of the long-stalled ‘peace talks’ only after Tel Aviv halts its Jewish settlement expansions in the West Bank and east Jerusalem.
"Neither the president nor the Secretary (of State Hillary Clinton) nor I have ever said of any one issue … that it is a precondition to negotiations," Mitchell said, adding that Washington does not want the parties to set preconditions.
Instead, Obama urged both sides to negotiate all the difficult issues between them toward a final deal that has long eluded negotiators.
After the meeting, the hawkish Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman boasted that the three-way talks proved how easily Israel can resist international demands.
"This government has shown that you don’t always need to get flustered, to surrender and give in. What’s important for me is that this government kept its promises to the voters … and the fact is that this meeting happened", Lieberman told Israel Radio on Wednesday.
According to a Washington Times report, Israel has so far agreed to consider a partial and temporary freeze on West Bank settlement construction in exchange for normalization of relations with certain North African and Arab countries.
Netanyahu, however, says the partial freeze does not affect the construction of 2,500 to 3,000 housing units already approved. He is also seeking to exempt East Jerusalem from the freeze.
The development indicates yet another cycle in fake efforts by successive US administrations to supposedly bring ‘peace’ in the Middle East that, in effect delivers further advantages to the Israeli occupiers at the cost of making a mockery out of Palestinian rights, statehood and dignity.