Washington's special envoy to the Mideast on Wednesday wrapped up his second meeting this week with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu without reaching an agreement on curtailing Israeli settlement construction.
U.S. official George Mitchell will sit down with Netanyahu for a third time on Friday, Netanyahu's office said in a statement. Mitchell made no comment after Wednesday's meeting.
The U.S. has a lot on the line, having reached out very publicly to the Arab and Muslim world and taken an uncharacteristically tough stand against Israeli construction in the West Bank and east Jerusalem.
Washington is also working against time: the Obama administration hopes to bring Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas together in New York next week as a prelude to renewed peacemaking. That could be difficult without some headway on the controversial settlements.
The Palestinians claim the West Bank and east Jerusalem — captured by Israel in the 1967 Mideast war — as part of a future state and have demanded a complete construction freeze. The Obama administration has echoed that demand.
Netanyahu has offered a temporary moratorium on construction in the West Bank that would last several months. But he says the moratorium won't apply to some 3,000 apartments that already have been approved — some of them as late as last week. And he also has refused to halt building in east Jerusalem.
Israel annexed that sector of the disputed city after the 1967 war, and does not consider it a settlement. The annexation has not been internationally recognized, and the Palestinians seek east Jerusalem as the capital of their hoped-for state.
Netanyahu hopes his proposal for a limited freeze will be enough to please the U.S. without risking the stability of his coalition government, dominated by hardline settler patrons like himself.
But the Palestinians and the U.S. have dug in and rejected his proposals.
Failure to reach a compromise could scuttle any meeting between Netanyahu and Abbas next week on the sidelines of a U.N. General Assembly meeting. The two men have not met face-to-face since Netanyahu took office in March.
There has been speculation that President Barack Obama would attend such a meeting to give it added heft.
Mitchell also traveled to Lebanon on Wednesday, briefing President Michel Suleiman on his efforts to revive negotiations, according to a statement issued by the president's office.
Mitchell did not speak to reporters after the Lebanon meeting.