Under pressure to compromise, Israeli and Palestinian leaders on Tuesday dug into the central issues blocking a peace deal but ended the latest round of talks without visible progress on the divisive issue of Jewish settlements.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas held an extra, unscheduled session with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, but there was no word on signs of a breakthrough. After the leaders' first meeting at this Egyptian Red Sea resort, U.S. peace envoy George Mitchell offered reporters a mildly positive assessment.
Mr. Mitchell said the core issues in the peace process were discussed, but all sides agreed not to reveal which ones or to what result.
With the talks concluded in the neutral ground of Egypt, they now shift on Wednesday to Jerusalem, a city at the centre of the Palestinian-Israeli dispute that both sides claim as their capital.
Ms. Clinton did not comment, but told reporters on the flight to Egypt from Washington on Monday that “the time is ripe” for an agreement based on the notion of a sovereign Palestinian state and a secure Israel.
Mr. Mitchell repeated Ms. Clinton's call for Israel to extend its soon-to-expire curb on settlement construction in the West Bank.
The Palestinians want Israel's settlement curb extended beyond the current September 26 deadline and have said failure to do so will bring the peace talks to an early end. Mr. Netanyahu has suggested at least some of the restraints will be lifted.
The settlement freeze is not the only wrinkle in the way of launching the talks in earnest. The two sides disagree over what to discuss first- security or borders.
A senior Abbas aide, Mohammed Ishtayeh, appeared to take a hard line on the issue of settlement construction. “The freeze on settlements [construction] is not a topic in the negotiations,” he said. “Removing settlements is.”
From the Israeli said, Netanyahu spokesman Mark Regev said, “If the expectation is that only Israel has to show flexibility then that is not a prescription for a successful process.”