Israelis and Palestinians agree to US-led talks

Israel and the Palestinians have agreed to hold "indirect" talks mediated by Washington, the US special envoy to the Middle East, George Mitchell, said yesterday.

The announcement came just hours after Israel enraged Palestinians by announcing new West Bank settlement construction on the same day US Vice President Joseph Biden landed in the region to promote negotiations.



Israel's decision to build 112 new housing units on lands Palestinians claim for a future state highlighted the tough road ahead for those seeking peace in the region.



Also underlining the difficulties are sharp divisions between Palestinian moderates and militants as well as a hardline Israeli government opposed to many concessions seen as necessary for peace.



George Mitchell, the US envoy who is visiting the region, said in a statement that he hoped the indirect talks "will lead to direct negotiations as soon as possible." And in what might have been a reaction to the latest Israeli move, he appealed to the two sides not do to anything that could jeopardize the talks.



"We also again encourage the parties, and all concerned, to refrain from any statements or actions which may inflame tensions or prejudice the outcome of these talks," said Mitchell, who is expected to shuttle between Israel and the Palestinian territories over the next several weeks.



Israel authorized the construction of new apartments in the West Bank despite a pledge to halt all new settlement building, the government disclosed — angering the Palestinians just as Biden landed in Israel for the highest-level visit yet by an Obama administration official.



The announcement came a day after Palestinians agreed to hold indirect talks with Israel, backing off from a demand that Israel freeze all building in the West Bank and east Jerusalem before they returned to the negotiating table. They considered Israel's willingness to halt new construction insufficient because it excluded east Jerusalem and projects already under way.



Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat accused Israel of trying to undermine the talks even before they began. "If the Israeli government wants to sabotage Mitchell's efforts by taking such steps, let's talk to Mitchell about maybe not doing this (indirect talks) if the price is so high," Erekat said.



The Palestinians presented the US envoy with a document outlining their desired peace agreement — a Palestinian state in Gaza and the West Bank, with minor border adjustments. At a meeting with Mitchell yesterday, Abbas also raised the issue of the new construction, Erekat said, saying it "put a big question mark on what it is that we came to do."



Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu sounded upbeat after his meeting with the US envoy. "I believe we will succeed in advancing the diplomatic process," the Israeli leader said. "But the diplomatic process is not a game, it is real, and rooted first and foremost in (Israel's) security."



Later, the Israeli leader welcomed the new start to negotiations in a speech in Jerusalem, saying: "I hope the proximity talks will quickly lead to direct talks that would really allow the promotion of peace."



He stressed, however, that negotiations would only succeed if the Palestinians recognize Israel as a Jewish state and that Israel's security be guaranteed.



Jewish construction in the West Bank and east Jerusalem is a particularly sore point with the Palestinians.



When Israel announced its partial settlement freeze in November, it said at the time that exceptions to the slowdown could be allowed. And on Monday, the Ministry of Defense said an exception was made in the case of the ultra-Orthodox Beitar Illit because of what it called safety and infrastructure issues. The ministry said it was the biggest exception granted since the slowdown went into effect.

News
people
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Dunham
booksLena Dunham's memoirs are honest to the point of making you squirm
Arts and Entertainment
A bit rich: Maggie Smith in Downton Abbey
tvDownton Abbey review: It's six months since we last caught up with the Crawley clan
Sport
Frank Lampard and his non-celebration
premier leagueManchester City vs Chelsea match report from the Etihad Stadium
PROMOTED VIDEO
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
News
Jacqueline Bisset has claimed that young women today are obsessed with being 'hot', rather than 'charming', 'romantic' or 'beautiful'
people
Arts and Entertainment
Jake Quickenden sings his heart out in his second audition
tvX Factor: How did the Jakes - and Charlie Martinez - fare?
Sport
premier league
Arts and Entertainment
'New Tricks' star Dennis Waterman is departing from the show after he completes filming on two more episodes
tvOnly remaining original cast-member to leave crime series
Sport
Mario Balotelli celebrates his first Liverpool goal
premier leagueLiverpool striker expressed his opinion about the 5-3 thriller with Leicester - then this happened
News
people'I hated him during those times'
News
Britain's shadow chancellor Ed Balls (L) challenges reporter Rob Merrick for the ball during the Labour Party versus the media soccer match,
peopleReporter left bleeding after tackle from shadow Chancellor in annual political football match
Arts and Entertainment
Female fans want more explicit male sex in Game of Thrones, George R R Martin says
tvSpoiler warning: Star of George RR Martin's hit series says viewers have 'not seen the last' of him/her
News
i100
News
Dame Vivienne Westwood has been raging pretty much all of her life
peopleMemoir extracts show iconic designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
Life and Style
fashionAlexander Fury's Spring/Summer 2015 London Fashion Week roundup
Arts and Entertainment
Lauryn Hill performing at the O2 Brixton Academy last night
musicSinger was more than 90 minutes late on stage in Brixton show
News
i100
News
Rumer was diagnosed with bipolarity, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder: 'I was convinced it was a misdiagnosis'
peopleHer debut album caused her post-traumatic stress - how will she cope as she releases her third record?
News
people''Women's rights is too often synonymous with man-hating'
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Head of Marketing and Communications - London - up to £80,000

£70000 - £80000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Group Head of Marketing and Communic...

Nursery Nurse

Negotiable: Randstad Education Manchester: Level 3 Nursery Nurse required for ...

Nursery Nurse

Negotiable: Randstad Education Manchester: L3 Nursery Nurses urgently required...

SEN Teaching Assistant

Negotiable: Randstad Education Manchester: We have a number of schools based S...

Day In a Page

Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam