The United States said on Thursday it believed indirect peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians were still on, saying it had no confirmation that the Palestinians had decided to drop out.
State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley cast doubt over comments by Arab League chief Amr Moussa on Wednesday saying that Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas had decided to scrap the talks following Israel's announcement of the construction of 1,600 new settler homes.
"I don't think that that report that's been circulating for the last 24 hours is accurate," Crowley said. "As far as I know, we are still moving forward. We have not heard from the Palestinians that they have pulled out."
He said that US Middle East envoy George Mitchell and Assistant Secretary of State Jeffrey Feltman were telephoning regional leaders to assess the situation following Israel's announcement, but that Mitchell still planned to return to the region next week with a view to launching the talks.
"George Mitchell is planning to be in the region next week and for further discussions on these issues. We remain committed to the process that is under way," Crowley said.
Israel's announcement this week, during a visit by US Vice President Joe Biden, of plans to build 1,600 Jewish homes in east Jerusalem, complicated US efforts to relaunch Middle East peacemaking.
The announcement embarrassed Biden, who said it undermined peacemaking efforts, and infuriated the West Bank-based Palestinian leadership, which had agreed to a US proposal for indirect talks under pressure from Washington and Arab allies.
Palestinian officials said Abbas had told Biden that Israel must halt the settlement project to clear the way for the indirect talks.
Crowley said the United States would continue to push both sides to come to the negotiating table, with the final aim of direct peace talks. "Clearly this announcement was counterproductive. It has made the environment more difficult," Crowley said.
"But we still continue to feel that this underscores why we need to see the discussions that are under way continue, ultimately to formal negotiations that can resolve these complex issues once and for all."