WASHINGTON - The State Department said the first round of indirect peace talks between Israel and Palestinian authorities have been completed.
State Department spokesman Philip Crowley said in a statement Sunday that US special envoy George Mitchell has left the Middle East after concluding talks characterized as serious and wide-ranging.
Crowley says both sides have taken some steps to create an atmosphere conducive to successful talks, including an Israeli pledge of no construction in the east Jerusalem neighborhood of Ramat Shlomo for two years and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’ statement that he will work against incitement of "any sort."
"They are both trying to move forward in difficult circumstances and we commend them for that," the State Department said.
Crowley added, "As both parties know, if either takes significant actions during the proximity talks that we judge would seriously undermine trust, we will respond to hold them accountable and ensure that negotiations continue."
Mitchell told the parties that progress is important so they can move to direct negotiations resulting in a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the State Department's statement read.
Crowley said Mitchell will return to the region next week to continue the proximity talks.
A source close to Benjamin Netanyahu said the prime minister "welcomes the launching of the proximity talks and appreciates the American administration's efforts to jumpstart the peace process.
"As for Ramat Shlomo, the prime minister said during Vice President Joe Biden's visit to Israel in March that the planning stage for Ramat Shlomo will last at least a year and that the actual construction will commence only a few years from now," said the source.
"Regarding Israel's commitments, the prime minister agreed to begin discussing certain key issues during the proximity talks. He also made it clear that at some point down the line he would support making gestures to the Palestinians if they do the same."
According to the source, throughout the entire process Netanyahu stressed that planning and construction in Jerusalem would continue as usual, in accordance with the policy of "all other (Israeli) governments over the past 43 years.
"There was no Israeli commitment as far as this issue is concerned," he said.
Attila Somfalvi, Reuters, AP contributed to the report