- Associated Press - Tuesday, September 14, 2010

SHARM EL SHEIK, Egypt (AP) — Under pressure to compromise, Israeli and Palestinian leaders on Tuesday dug into the central issues blocking a peace deal but the latest talks produced no visible progress on the divisive issue of Jewish settlements.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas held an extra, unscheduled session with Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, but there was no word on signs of a breakthrough. After the leaders’ first meeting at this Red Sea resort, U.S. peace envoy George Mitchell offered reporters a mildly positive assessment.

The latest round of talks began this month in Washington.

Mr. Mitchell said the core issues in the peace process were discussed, but all sides agreed not to reveal which ones or with what results.

“I’m not going to attempt to identify each one that was discussed, but several were in a very serious, detailed and extensive discussion,” Mr. Mitchell said at a press conference.

Israeli officials said Sharm el Sheik was chosen for Tuesday’s meeting in recognition of Egypt’s key role in regional peace efforts. “We were guests of the Egyptian President Mubarak,” said Mark Regev, Mr. Netanyahu’s spokesman. “Egypt plays an important role in supporting this process.”

The leaders move on to the holy city of Jerusalem for more discussions Wednesday in another symbolic gesture aimed at underscoring the importance of the negotiations, the first direct talks between the Israelis and Palestinians in almost two years.

The status of Jerusalem is one of the thorniest issues dividing the two sides. Israel claims the undivided city as its capital, while the Palestinians want the eastern part to be the capital of an eventual state.

Mrs. 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 was pressed to say whether there was progress on settlements and responded: “We continue our efforts to make progress and we believe that we are moving in the right direction, overall.”

He repeated Mrs. Clinton’s call for Israel to extend its soon-to-expire curb on settlement construction in the West Bank.

“We think it makes sense to extend the moratorium, especially given that the talks are moving in a constructive direction,” he said. “We know this is a politically sensitive issue in Israel. But we’ve also called on President Abbas to take steps that help encourage and facilitate this process.”

The ultimate aim is a deal that creates a sovereign Palestinian state beside a secure Israel.

Mr. Regev said much work lay ahead and that the Palestinian and Israeli leaders have to make hard decisions. “The way to an agreement is to look at all the core issues together, not to run away from any one of them,” he said.

The Palestinians want Israel’s settlement curb extended beyond the current Sept. 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.

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