US envoy says 2-state deal is only solution for Mideast
Mitchell sends a message to Israeli leaders
RAMALLAH, West Bank - A Palestinian state alongside Israel is the only way to end the Mideast conflict, President Obama's Mideast point man said yesterday, sending a stern message to Israel's hardline leaders, who have expressed misgivings about a two-state solution.
Envoy George Mitchell, in the region on his third trip since Obama took office, suggested the United States was eager to see quick progress after years of failed peace efforts.
"This conflict has gone on far too long, and the people of this region should no longer have to wait for the just peace that guarantees security for all," Mitchell said after three days of separate meetings with Israeli and Palestinian leaders.
Highlighting the simmering tensions, two Palestinians were killed yesterday - one after entering a Jewish settlement armed with a knife, and a second during a protest against Israel's West Bank barrier. The protester was struck by a tear gas canister fired by Israeli forces, a Palestinian doctor said.
It was Mitchell's first trip to the region since Israeli hardline leader Benjamin Netanyahu took office as prime minister. Obama has not spelled out his Mideast policy in detail, and both Israelis and Palestinians have been watching closely for a possible shift in US positions.
Mitchell said yesterday that the United States would not settle for anything less than the establishment of a Palestinian state alongside Israel. "A comprehensive peace in this region is in the national interest of the United States. It is in the interest of the Palestinian people, it is in the interest of the people of Israel and of the entire region," he said.
"A two-state solution is the only solution," Mitchell said after meeting with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.
Mitchell later traveled to Cairo where he met with Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit. He told reporters after the meeting that the United States was committed to "comprehensive peace" in the Middle East.
Mitchell's remarks yesterday appeared aimed at Israel's leaders who have not endorsed the principle of Palestinian statehood and have instead proposed taking measures to boost the Palestinian economy in the West Bank, which the moderate Abbas controls.
Netanyahu expressed his concerns about Palestinian statehood in a meeting with Mitchell Thursday, according to an official in Netanyahu's office. The Israeli leader said if such a state were to be set up, the Islamic militant Hamas group could take over the West Bank, as it overran Gaza in 2007, two years after Israel withdrew from the territory.
The experience of Israel quitting land Palestinians claim for a future state, only to have it controlled by extremists, "is not going to be repeated," said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
Another possible point of friction between the United States and Israel could be the 2002 Arab peace initiative, which offers Israel broad recognition by the Arab world in exchange for Israel's withdrawal from all lands it occupied in the 1967 Mideast war, including the areas the Palestinians seek for their state.
Israel has said repeatedly that it would not withdraw to the 1967 borders.