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Mideast Peace Deal Faces Hurdle Over Settlements

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Mideast Peace Deal Faces Hurdle Over Settlements

Middle East

Mideast Peace Deal Faces Hurdle Over Settlements

Mideast Peace Deal Faces Hurdle Over Settlements

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Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas met for a second day to talk about a peace deal. U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said that the parties were "getting down to business," but it was unclear how they would overcome a dispute over Jewish settlements in the West Bank.

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

In addition to those talks in Sudan, President Obama and Secretary Clinton have taken up a perennial diplomatic challenge: peace in the Middle East.

In Jerusalem today, Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu held another round of talks with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. The two men are trying to show they're serious about negotiating peace within the year. But it's unclear how they will overcome their very first hurdle - a dispute over Jewish settlements in the West Bank.

NPR's Michele Kelemen reports.

(Soundbite of speech)

MICHELE KELEMEN: We're working on it, was all Netanyahu would say when asked whether there's been progress in the direct negotiations of the past two days. He hosted Mahmoud Abbas, Hillary Clinton and U.S. Peace Envoy George Mitchell a day after the same group met at an Egyptian Red Sea resort. Abbas hadn't been to the prime minister's residence since Netanyahu took office and he reportedly wrote in the guestbook today that he returned after a long period of absence in order to continue negotiations with the hope to arrive at an eternal peace in the region.

Secretary Clinton says the U.S. will stand by the two as they make tough decisions.

Secretary HILLARY CLINTON (State Department): This is the time and these are the leaders.

KELEMEN: Speaking earlier in the day, she told reporters that the status quo is unsustainable and the Israeli and Palestinian leaders know it.

Sec. CLINTON: I have listened to them talk candidly and forcefully. They are getting down to business. And they have begun to grapple with the core issues that can only be resolved through face-to-face negotiations.

KELEMEN: Absent from the upbeat rhetoric, though, is any word about how she hopes to resolve a pressing issue that could derail the current negotiations. Palestinians have said they'll walk out if Israel resumes settlement building in the West Bank, when a partial moratorium expires later this month.

Middle East envoy George Mitchell seems undeterred. He's not only trying to resolve this immediate hurdle in the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, he's also setting off this week to Syria and Lebanon to revive other tracks of the Arab-Israeli peace process.

Michele Kelemen, NPR News, Jerusalem.

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