George Mitchell, Netanyahu Meet Concerning Peace Efforts

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JERUSALEM — Israel's next leader sat face-to-face Thursday with a man whose vision of Israeli-Palestinian relations is radically different from his own: the Obama administration's new Mideast envoy.

Prime Minister-designate Benjamin Netanyahu thinks negotiations on Palestinian statehood are pointless. But envoy George Mitchell wants Israel to resume negotiations to establish a Palestinian state.

This is Mitchell's second Mideast visit since President Barack Obama took office last month. Hillary Rodham Clinton will make her first trip to the region next week as the new U.S. secretary of state.

The attention follows Obama's promise to make Mideast peace a priority.

Thursday's meeting was "positive and productive," Netanyahu said, and the two still "have a lot to talk about." Mitchell made no statement. He promised a vigorous push for Israeli-Palestinian peace on his first visit but offered no public glimpse into how the administration planned to do it. Mitchell was not expected to do so this time, either, a U.S. official said.

Mitchell's visit comes amid ongoing talks on the region's future _ on a Gaza cease-fire, Gaza reconstruction and Palestinian reconciliation.

Egyptian officials have been trying to mediate a long-term truce between Israel and the Islamic militant Hamas group that rules Gaza, to replace a fragile cease-fire that ended Israel's three-week offensive in Gaza last month.

The two rival Palestinian groups, Hamas and the Western-backed West Bank government, are meeting this week for Egyptian-mediated talks on reconciliation.

And dozens of countries will meet Monday in Egypt for a donors' conference to raise money for rebuilding Gaza after the Israeli offensive.

One of Mitchell's immediate goals is to shore up the Gaza cease-fire, which continues to be shaken by low-level violence.

On Thursday, militants fired two rockets at southern Israel and Israel later sent aircraft to raid southern Gaza. Hamas said the aircraft targeted five smuggling tunnels. Palestinian medical officials said three people were wounded, one critically. No one was injured in the rocket attacks.

Mitchell is also expected to focus on the need to rebuild Gaza. The Palestinians hope to raise $2.8 billion at Monday's donor conference, where the U.S. is expected to pledge $900 million.

Mitchell and Netanyahu seem at odds on key underlying issues.

Mitchell wants to press ahead with peace talks that would lead to the creation of a Palestinian state. Netanyahu avoids any talk of Palestinian statehood and says peace efforts should focus on building up the Palestinian economy. Mitchell has urged a freeze of Jewish West Bank settlements, while Netanyahu says existing settlements must be allowed to expand.

On his arrival from Turkey, Mitchell headed straight into a meeting with moderate Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni.

Livni has spurned Netanyahu's attempts to get her to join him in a broad coalition government. She said she and Mitchell discussed the donor's conference and how it could help the people of Gaza.

She said Israel's policy was to help when it comes to humanitarian needs but "without strengthening Hamas as a terrorist organization that controls Gaza."

Netanyahu and Livni also met Thursday with the European Union foreign policy chief, Javier Solana.

The success of Gaza's reconstruction will depend largely on Israel reopening border crossings into Gaza. Israel and Egypt blockaded their borders with Gaza after Hamas militants overran the territory nearly two years ago. Israel has since let in limited humanitarian supplies.

Truce talks recently deadlocked over Israel's insistence that Hamas release a captured Israeli soldier before border crossings are opened.

A power-sharing deal between Hamas and the West Bank government of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas is also seen as key to reconstruction. Many in the international community shun the violently anti-Israel Hamas and won't send it money directly.

In a report obtained by The Associated Press on Thursday, Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad asked donors to channel aid "first and foremost" through his West Bank government.