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By Mohammed Assadi
RAMALLAH, West Bank (Reuters) - Israeli-Palestinian peace talks are unlikely to resume in the near future, Palestinian chief negotiator Saeb Erekat said on Monday, blaming Israel for the impasse and urging Washington to do the same.
"The gap is still wide and Israel does not give a single sign of meeting its obligations under the road map, halting settlement activities and resuming negotiations where they left off," he told Voice of Palestine radio.
"I do not see any possibility for restarting peace talks in the near future," he said, in an assessment echoed by Israeli government officials.
The U.S.-backed peace "road map" of 2003, which charts a course to Palestinian statehood, commits Israel to halting settlement activity in the occupied West Bank.
"If President (Barack) Obama's administration cannot make Israel abide by its commitments, it has to announce that Israel is the party that is obstructing the launching of peace negotiations," Erekat said, referring to the road map accords.
Resisting U.S. pressure to comply, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has ruled out a complete halt to building within settlements, saying the needs of growing settler families must be met.
Israel also accuses Palestinians of failing to meet their road map commitments to curb violence and incitement against Israel, notably by Hamas Islamists who control the Gaza Strip.
Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barak said Obama's Middle East envoy, George Mitchell, would return to the region on Wednesday to continue his efforts to revive peace talks.
Barak said that Netanyahu would apparently meet Obama in the second week of November, when the Israeli leader is due to address an American Jewish group in Washington.
"We intend to do our best to bring about the opening of significant negotiations with the Palestinians as soon as possible. This is important, necessary and, I would say, urgent," Barak told legislators from his Labour Party.
LAND FOR PEACE
Netanyahu has rejected Palestinian demands to abide by what they said were land-for-peace understandings reached with his predecessor, Ehud Olmert, in a year of negotiations that followed a U.S.-sponsored peace conference in November 2007.
Netanyahu has called on Abbas to resume negotiations immediately without preconditions.
Israeli government officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said talks with the Palestinians were unlikely in the coming months.
They expressed doubt Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas could be flexible towards Israel before Palestinian elections in January. Hamas opposes the election, but Abbas's government went ahead and announced on Monday the poll would be held on January 24.
Alongside the diplomatic stalemate, tensions have risen particularly over clashes around Jerusalem's al-Aqsa mosque, most recently on Sunday when 18 Palestinians and three Israeli policemen were injured in protests.
The Palestinian official in charge of Jerusalem, Khatem Abdel Khader, one of 16 people arrested by Israel at the protests, was released on Monday but said he had been ordered to stay away from the old walled city where the holy sites are for 21 days.
Khader told Reuters the dispute in Jerusalem was "an explosive one that could ignite the entire region."
On Thursday, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton gave Obama a less-than-glowing assessment of peace efforts after Mitchell met Israeli and Palestinian negotiators in Washington. (Additional reporting by Mohammed Assadi and Ali Sawafta in Ramallah; writing by Jeffrey Heller in Jerusalem; editing by Tim Pearce)