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Thursday May 20, 2010 8:44 PM (EST+7)
Israel weighs new steps for US-backed peace talks

Read more: peace talks, proximity talks, US-backed peace plan, George Mitchell, Mahmoud Abbas, Benjamin Netanyahu

JERUSALEM, May 20 (Reuters) - Israel said on Thursday it may take new steps to encourage progress in U.S.-brokered indirect negotiations with the Palestinians.

A statement issued after U.S. Middle East envoy George Mitchell met for three hours with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said they had discussed the possibility Israel would consider implementing confidence-building gestures.

Netanyahu's spokesman, Nir Hefez, said Israel expects the Palestinian leadership to work as well to create a positive atmosphere for the so-called proximity talks that Mitchell launched this month after an 18-month hiatus in negotiations.

Palestinians have agreed to up to four months of indirect talks, but have made direct negotiations conditional on a halt to all Israeli settlement activities in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, territory Israel captured in a 1967 war.

The Israeli statement accused the Palestinians of having campaigned to try and prevent Israel from joining the OECD, (Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development), though the Jewish state was invited to join the group this month.

Hefez did not elaborate as to what gestures Israel may consider, but government sources have said Netanyahu was examining a proposal to build a road linking the West Bank city of Ramallah to a new Palestinian town under construction.

The meeting in Jerusalem also dealt with the issue of water, said Hefez, who added Israel wanted to enhance regional cooperation on this for its benefit as well as the Palestinians.

Mitchell, in the region for a second round of talks this months, met on Wednesday with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, but no details of their discussions have been released.

Neither side is optimistic about making a breakthrough soon, both Israel and the Palestinians seem to be taking steps to build trust.

Abbas broke with tradition on Monday by failing to give a speech on the day on which Palestinians mourn the creation of Israel, which they call the nakba, or catastrophe.

Analysts said Abbas wanted to avoid an occasion on which he would be expected to condemn Israel in strong language.

The White House has said it will hold each side accountable for any actions taken that could undermine the negotiations, the first in 18 months.

Palestinians want East Jerusalem as the capital of the state they intend to establish in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Israel regards all of Jerusalem as its capital, a claim that is not recognised internationally. (Writing by Allyn Fisher-Ilanr; Editing by Charles Dick)






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