RAMALLAH, Jan. 6 (JMCC & Reuters) - George Mitchell, the US Middle East envoy, said on Wednesday that Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations should take no longer than two years and could be finished sooner than that.
Mitchell said in an interview on the Charlie Rose television program on PBS he plans to return to the region in the next few days and hopes to make progress on political, security and economic tracks of the peace process.
We think that the negotiation should last no more than two years, once begun we think it can be done within that period of time, Mitchell said. We hope the parties agree. Personally I think it can be done in a shorter period of time.
He said an Israel-Syria track could operate in parallel with an Israeli-Palestinian track.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas signaled on Monday that he is considering a proposal to relaunch stalled Middle East peace talks at a U.S.-backed summit with Israeli and Egyptian leaders early in the new year.
Speaking to the press in Qatar where he is visiting, Abbas said that Israeli reports of a new US initative were correct, according to al-Quds newspaper.
Previously, Palestinian officials have denied knowledge of a US plan, which is said to include peace negotiations over two years. Palestinians would reportedly receive a letter of assurance that borders will be the first final status item on the talks agenda, and those borders are to closely mirror the 1967 dividing line.
Israel, on the other hand, would receive a letter of assurance affirming the Jewishness of the Israeli state and supporting demilitarization of a Palestinian state.
Palestinian officials continue to stick to a demand that Israel cease construction in the settlements before there is a return to the negotiations. A settlement freeze is one of the steps in the road map plan endorsed by the Quartet, comprised of European Union, United Nations, United States and Russian representation.
Abbas said Tuesday that he would be the first to negotiate with Israel, were it to stop building settlements and recognize the 1967 borders of the future Palestinian state.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced a 10-month limited settlement freeze in November of last year. Settlement watch groups report nevertheless that this period has observed a rise in settlement construction.
Israel, Egypt and the United States want Abbas to reopen talks, but he refuses as long as Israel refuses to agree to a permanent freeze on construction in Jewish settlements on the West Bank and in East Jerusalem.
Mitchell, who shuttled to the Middle East a dozen times in 2009, also helped broker a peace accord in Northern Ireland. (Editing by Alan Elsner)