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Israel Says Gaps Remain With U.S. On Mideast Peace Plan

Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu
(RFE/RL) -- Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu says he hopes to bridge gaps with the United States on the Middle East peace process.

Speaking to his cabinet in Jerusalem, Netanyahu said on September 13 that he would meet with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak in Cairo in an attempt to revive peace talks with the Palestinians ahead of a possible trilateral meeting on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly later this month.

"There is still work to be done. There are some things in which progress has been made and there are certain things in which we have yet to make progress. I hope we will be able to narrow the gaps and perhaps to bridge them so that we can move forward in the diplomatic process," Netanyahu said.

"As far as we are concerned, there's no reason for delay. We are not the ones blocking the start of a diplomatic process. As far as we are concerned, this can be done tomorrow and yesterday."

Indeed, a key stumbling block has been Israel's continued expansion of Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank -- moves that are illegal under international law.

Israel on September 7 gave permission for 455 new homes to be built there -- despite calls from U.S. President Barack Obama's administration for a halt to all settlement activity on occupied Palestinian land.

Israeli cabinet minister Yisrael Katz said Obama's position on settlement expansion is at the heart of differences between Washington and Netanyahu's government.

"There are more understandings that need to be agreed upon in advance with the United States administration in order to ensure that if negotiations open, there is the room that the prime minister wants with regard to settlements. And I, and the vast majority of us, are giving it to him with regard to construction," Katz said.

"And then there is the essence itself that the government has a clear position rejecting the withdrawal [of Israeli forces] to their 1967 border positions. [The government has a clear position on] talks about security, borders and other issues."

The approval of more Jewish settlements by Netanyahu's government has prompted Palestinian leader Mahmud Abbas to insist that he will not meet his Israeli counterparts until Israel implements a freeze on new settlements in the West Bank.

Otherwise, Abbas says, there is no point attending a summit with Netanyahu and Obama later this month on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly.

Meanwhile, U.S. Middle East envoy George Mitchell has arrived in Israel for talks that he hopes will clear the way for Netanyahu and Abbas to meet with Obama.

Mitchell was meeting with senior Israeli Defense Ministry and Foreign Ministry officials. Mitchell also was expected to meet with Netanyahu after the Israeli prime minister returns to Jerusalem from his talks with the Egyptian president.