Video: Making peace in the Middle East

updated 9/23/2009 2:34:40 PM ET 2009-09-23T18:34:40

Israelis and Palestinians said Wednesday that their envoys would meet with U.S. officials but not with each other, cementing the impression that a U.S.-sponsored meeting between their leaders had fallen flat.

Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said there would be no follow-up session with the Israelis because the two sides hadn't bridged the divides that have prevented them from resuming talks.

"It's not happening because we agreed to continue dealing with the Americans until we reach the agreement that will enable us to relaunch the negotiations," Erekat said.

The Palestinians refuse to restart talks until Israel freezes settlement construction in territories the Palestinians claim for a future state. They also want talks to restart where they left off before breaking down earlier this year, something Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has refused to do.

In an NBC interview Wednesday, Netanyahu called Israeli settlements "bedroom suburbs" of Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.

Failing to win compromise after months of U.S. mediation, Obama summoned Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to a meeting Tuesday on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly in New York. Obama admonished the two men — who met for the first time since Netanyahu became Israel's leader in March — to stop wasting time and to start making peace.

Israeli government spokesman Mark Regev said Israel would dispatch envoys to meet with U.S. officials in Washington, but there were no plans now to meet again with the Palestinians.

He said, however, that it was Israel's "sincere hope that we will see the restart of direct Israeli-Palestinian talks."

Peacekeeping efforts
Early on in his presidency, Obama had demanded an all-out halt to settlement construction. He had hoped to defuse the historic impediment to peacemaking and encourage the Arab world to make overtures toward the Jewish state that might lead to a normalization of relations.

But Netanyahu refused to freeze construction, agreeing only to slow settlement building in the West Bank and east Jerusalem for a limited time. He said Israel would proceed with already approved plans to build thousands of apartments and would not curb any construction in east Jerusalem, which Israel captured in the 1967 War and later annexed.

The international community does not recognize that annexation, nor does it sanction West Bank settlements.

Avigdor Lieberman, Israel's hardline foreign minister, told Israel Radio on Wednesday that the Obama meeting was a victory for Israel because it took place in the face of resistance to U.S. pressure by the Netanyahu government.

The Israeli government "kept its promises to the voter" by showing it was not necessary to "surrender and give in," he said.

Netanyahu has been interviewed multiple times on American television since meeting with Obama and Abbas, using those platforms to argue that Israel needs to continue building to accommodate population growth in existing settlements.

The settlers who are there "have to live. You can't freeze life," he said.

Nearly half a million Israelis have moved to the West Bank and east Jerusalem in the past 42 years.

More on: Israel-Palestinian

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