x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 24 January 2018

Netanyahu makes fresh plea for talks with Palestinians

The Israeli PM repeats call for an immediate resumption of direct talks, urging Mahmoud Abbas in strong terms to join him at the negotiating table without preconditions.

WASHINGTON // Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu yesterday repeated his call for an immediate resumption of direct talks with Palestinians, urging Mahmoud Abbas in strong terms to join him at the negotiating table without preconditions. "I think delaying the process, talking about talking, making preconditions about getting into talks, is a mistake," Mr Netanyahu said in an appearance at the Council on Foreign Relations, an influential think tank in New York. "I think it has cost about a year and I don't think it should cost us any more time".

Mr Netanyahu's remarks came at the end of a three-day visit to the United States that was billed as a chance for him to firm up the uncharacteristically turbulent US-Israel relationship. He met President Barack Obama at the White House on Tuesday and the two leaders emerged touting the strength of the US-Israel bond. During his visit, the Israeli prime minister has often emphasised his willingness to enter direct talks. But he has side-stepped more complicated questions such as whether he will allow a temporary moratorium on settlement construction to expire in September or whether he is willing to relocate Jewish settlers as part of a two-state solution.

Direct talks were suspended in late 2008 after Israel launched a 22-day offensive in the Gaza Strip. The Palestinians have said they will not participate in direct negotiations without full freeze on West Bank settlements. They also have been frustrated by Mr Netanyahu's failure to provide assurances about the size and shape of a future Palestinians state. Mr Netanyahu said yesterday that he is willing to take "political risks" and emphasised that "everything" would be up for discussion once direct talks resume.

"Israelis are prepared to go a very long way and I am prepared to lead them a very long way to make peace," he said, adding that a key condition for a future Palestinian state would be that it recognises Israel as "the nation-state of the Jewish people". When asked about the expiring settlement freeze, Mr Netanyahu offered few specifics, but hinted that he would not extend it. "I actually did this temporary freeze as an inducement to enter the talks. Now seven months into this 10-month moratorium, the Palestinians have not yet come in, but they are already arguing: 'Well you've got to extend that gesture'," said Mr Netanyahu, who is under pressure from his right-wing coalition government not to renew the freeze. "I think we've shown our good faith," he said. "I think we've done enough. Let's get on with the talks."