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U.S. envoy fails to break impasse over Israeli settlements

Convening a new round of negotiations in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt between Israel and the Palestinians, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said the "time is ripe" for a Mideast peace deal.

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Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, October 1, 2010; 6:51 PM

JERUSALEM - U.S. envoy George J. Mitchell shuttled between Israeli and Palestinian leaders Friday in an intensive effort to save Middle East peace talks from collapsing, but failed to break an impasse over Israeli settlement building in the West Bank.

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Mitchell told reporters at the end of his two-day mission that Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas had agreed "that we will continue our discussions," a reference to separate contacts with Washington.

Abbas has warned that he will halt direct talks unless Netanyahu extends a moratorium on new building in the settlements that expired Sunday. Netanyahu, citing political pressures in his right-leaning coalition, has said the freeze will not be extended.

Nabil Abu Rudeineh, a spokesman for Abbas, said Friday that "we didn't get any satisfactory answer from the Americans about the settlement freeze," adding that since the Israelis did not commit to a freeze, "we cannot go back to the negotiations."

Abbas is scheduled to consult with leaders of his Fatah party and the Palestine Liberation Organization on Saturday before taking the matter to a committee of the Arab League on Wednesday.

Netanyahu said before meeting with Mitchell that he wanted the negotiations to continue.

Israeli media reported that Netanyahu had rebuffed a U.S. offer of incentives, including security assurances and support for a long-term presence of Israeli troops in the Jordan Valley, on the eastern border of a future Palestinian state, in return for a 60-day extension of the building moratorium.

Netanyahu's spokesman declined to comment, but an official quoted Netanyahu as telling aides that "everyone knows that measured and restrained building" in the settlements "in the coming year will have no influence on the peace map."

Greenberg is a special correspondent.

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