The American envoy for Middle East peace is not a man to envy.

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The American envoy for Middle East peace is not a man to envy. Senator George Mitchell is trying to remain upbeat while shuttling between Jerusalem and the surrounding Arab capitals, but his deepening wrinkles leave no place for doubt: the Israeli-Palestinian peace process is – yet again – in dire straits.

Direct negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority were re-launched a month ago in Washington, so how come they’re derailing so quickly? The issue now in the forefront is Israeli settlements in the West Bank, after the Israeli government announced last November a 10-month moratorium on construction as a trust-building step. It took the international community nine of those months to get the Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas on board, and the Israeli prime minister is now under intense pressure to prolong the moratorium further. Abbas has threatened to leave the talks if it is not renewed.

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