updated 9/15/2009 5:57:19 PM ET 2009-09-15T21:57:19

Washington's special Middle East envoy pressed Israel to curtail West Bank settlement construction but announced no breakthroughs after talks with Israeli and Palestinian leaders on Tuesday.

After an evening meeting with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, Mitchell said the U.S. is committed to the resumption of peace talks and that he hoped "to bring this phase of the effort to a positive conclusion in the coming weeks."

After the talks in the West Bank city of Ramallah, Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat blamed Israel for stalling resumption of peace talks and insisted that all settlement building must stop.

Earlier, Mitchell talked for more than two hours with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu but failed to win a pledge for a halt to settlement construction.

If Mitchell fails to wrest significant concessions from Israel, the Arab world could become skeptical of President Barack Obama and the unprecedented pressure he has put on Israel to halt settlement expansion.

Clock is ticking
For Mitchell, the clock is ticking: the U.S. hopes to bring Netanyahu and Abbas together next week on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly session in New York, in what would be cast as a prelude to renewed peacemaking.

Netanyahu's office said he would hold a second, unscheduled meeting with Mitchell on Wednesday.

Abbas has repeatedly said he would not resume official talks with Israel unless settlement construction comes to a total halt. But aides have said he might agree to an informal meeting with Netanyahu in New York.

There has been speculation that Obama, who is also attending the opening of the U.N. General Assembly, would join an Abbas-Netanyahu meeting.

Mitchell met with Netanyahu a day after the Israeli leader again rejected U.S. calls for a freeze on the construction in settlements built on land claimed by the Palestinians. He said plans to build nearly 3,000 new apartments in the West Bank would remain on course and there would be no restrictions on expanding Jewish neighborhoods in east Jerusalem.

Palestinians claim both areas for a future state that would also include the Hamas-run Gaza Strip.

Netanyahu has said he would suspend other construction , hoping that would be enough of an overture for the Americans and the Palestinians. But that tradeoff hasn't elicited much enthusiasm in either quarter.

An Abbas-Netanyahu meeting would not necessarily signal a watershed. Israel and the Palestinians have held multiple rounds of talks without producing an accord to end decades of conflict.

The Palestinian leader held talks with Netanyahu's dovish predecessor, Ehud Olmert, for more than a year without achieving an agreement. That has cost Abbas credibility among his own constituency, which has narrowed considerably since Islamic Hamas militants overran Gaza in 2007, leaving him controlling only the West Bank.

More on:  Gaza Strip

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