Mitchell: Obama wants 'immediate' Mideast talks
US envoy George Mitchell says 'president has told me to exert all efforts to create circumstance...for comprehensive peace, normalization of relations' between Israel and its neighbors. Meanwhile, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas says there will be no talks until Israel recognizes Palestinian state, upholds Road Map commitments
Mitchell, who is en route to the Middle East, said the aim of such talks was "a comprehensive peace and normalization of relations" between Israel and its neighbors, which would also serve "the security interests of the United States".
"The president has told me to exert all efforts to create the circumstance when the parties can begin immediate discussions," Mitchell told reporters at the start of a Palestinian donors' conference in the Norwegian capital.
Mitchell said the purpose of the donors' meeting was to "provide support for the Palestinian Authority" and pave the way for a two-state solution with Israel.
"It's important that there is a building of institutions and governmental capacity so that at an early time there can be an independent and viable Palestinian state," Mitchell said.
Norway's Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Stoere said recent political uncertainty regarding any Middle East peace deal had hurt fund-raising efforts for the Palestinians.
"We, the donor community, are not into this as a humanitarian project but a political project," Stoere said.
Abbas: Israel must recognize Palestinian state
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said there will be no talks before Israel recognizes a Palestinian state and upholds the first clause of the Road Map – halting all settlement activity. Abbas also demanded Palestinian institutes be opened in Jerusalem and the Israelis retreat to their pre-intifada posts.
During a tour of Palestinian classrooms sitting their matriculation exams on Monday, Abbas said he was not posing any new conditions, but was demanding Israel live up to the Road Map.
"We were required to bring security, and, thank God, we did, and now Israel must fulfill its commitments, but if Israel refuses to do so, and if it refuses to acknowledge the two-state principle, what is there to talk about?"
Abbas added that the Palestinian Authority is willing to hold talks provided the Israelis carry out the commitments they made in the first clause of the Road Map. "We are not inventing terms and are not placing conditions. We want each of the parties to live up to their commitments," he said.
Barak: We have no plans to expand settlements
Last week Mitchell met with Defense Minister Ehud Barak, and the two held a private discussion on a number of regional, security and political issues. Barak said during the meeting that he was in favor of opening the Syrian channel for political talks.
Mitchell's spokesman said at the end of the meeting that the possibility that the special envoy may stop in Damascus during his Mideast visit was "being examined", and that Mitchell may also stop in Beirut, Lebanon.
During his visit to the US, Barak tried to calm rising tensions between Washington and Jerusalem regarding the settlement issue. Barak told the Americans any rash actions against the settlers was unwise and would shake up the regime's stability.
"Israel is making its gesture to express its willingness to take a path of dialogue with the Palestinians, by preparation to remove outposts. Jerusalem and Washington have an interest in setting the foundations for the moderate stream in the Middle East, and additional pressure will only strengthen the extremist," Barak said.
However, the defense minister stressed to the Americans that their demand to completely freeze settlement activity was unreasonable. "We can't stop existing construction. We have no plans for new construction or expansion. There needs to be rational conduct that is connected to real life; you can't just expect irrational things to happen."