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Mideast Talks: No Progress on Jewish Settlements

Last Updated 9:57 a.m. ET

A second round of Israeli-Palestinian peace talks ended without visible progress Tuesday on the divisive issue of Jewish settlement construction though the leaders did discuss a range of disputes standing in the way of a permanent deal.

In a potentially positive sign, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas planned to hold an extra meeting in this Red Sea resort before shifting to Jerusalem for more negotiations Wednesday, according to Israeli officials who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the situation.

"The parties have begun a serious discussion on core issues," said President Barack Obama's envoy to the region, George Mitchell, after the leaders met for almost two hours with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, who said the "time is ripe" for a peace deal.

Those issues include determining borders for Israel and a Palestinian state and ensuring security for Israel.

Pressed to say whether there was progress on settlements, Mitchell said, "We continue our efforts to make progress and we believe that we are moving in the right direction, overall."

He repeated 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. We believe both sides have a responsibility to help ensure that these talks continue in a constructive manner.

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

The most immediate dispute between the two sides surrounds a soon-to-expire curb on new construction for Israeli settlers in the West Bank. The Palestinians want the curb extended beyond the current Sept. 26 deadline, but Netanyahu has suggested at least some of the restraints will be lifted.

CBS News correspondent Robert Berger reports the Palestinians have threatened to pull out of the talks if construction resumes in the West Bank.

The Palestinians want Israel's settlement curb extended beyond the current Sept. 26 deadline. Netanyahu has suggested at least some of the restraints will be lifted.

Clinton spoke with reporters Monday during a flight from Washington to Egypt for the latest round of the current Mideast peace talks, which began earlier this month in Washington.

Clinton said the Obama administration believes Israel should extend the moratorium, but she also said it would take an effort by both sides to find a way around the problem.

"We recognize that an agreement that could be forged between the Israelis and the Palestinians ... that would enable the negotiations to continue is in the best interests of both sides," she said.

After her arrival early Tuesday, she met with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. As Netanyahu arrived at Sharm el-Sheikh, Clinton was meeting with Abbas.

The settlement freeze is not the only wrinkle in the way of launching the talks in earnest. The two sides are bickering over what to discuss first: security or borders.

A senior Abbas aide, Mohammed Ishtayeh, appeared to take a hard line on the issue of settlement construction, telling reporters that an Israeli extension of its partial freeze would not signal progress in the negotiations but rather progress in "confidence building."

"The freeze on settlements (construction) is not a topic in the negotiations," he said. "Removing settlements is."

From the Israeli said, Netanyahu spokesman Mark Regev said, "If the expectation is that only Israel has to show flexibility then that is not a prescription for a successful process."

Israeli Interior Minister Eli Yishai, a member of Netanyahu's seven-member inner Cabinet, voiced his opposition to the settlement slowdown, reflecting the intense pressure on the prime minister within his coalition to resume construction once the moratorium ends.

"The freeze in the West Bank is incorrect and it's good that it is ending," Yishai told Israel Radio as the meetings in Egypt were taking place.

On Sunday, Netanyahu seemed to reject a total freeze on construction. He said Israel would not build thousands of planned homes. But without providing details or a timeline, he said, "We will not freeze the lives of the residents."

Although some analysts caution that any peace deal faces daunting obstacles, Clinton has said an initial round of talks in Washington on Sept. 2 generated some momentum. They were the first direct in nearly two years.

President Obama said last week that he had urged Netanyahu to extend the partial moratorium as long as talks were making progress.

Mr. Obama also said he'd told Abbas that if he showed he's serious about negotiating, it would give political maneuvering room to Netanyahu on the settlement issue. Abbas knows "the window for creating a Palestinian state is closing," President Obama said.

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