Israel: Peace talks to resume soon

The Israeli prime minister has said he expects peace talks with the Palestinians, which have been stalled for more than a year, to resume in the coming weeks.

“I have reasons to believe, realistically, that we will resume the peace process with the Palestinians, without prior conditions, in the coming weeks,” Binyamin Netanyahu told a conference on security in Herzliya, northern Israel, on Wednesday.

Without providing details, Netanyahu suggested that the United States had a hand in the breakthrough.

“It is customary to say that it takes two to tango, but it sometimes takes three in the Middle East, at least to get started dancing the tango, after which I suppose a couple can carry on dancing,” he said.

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“I hope that if there is willingness on the Palestinian side to build peace, to conduct negotiations to reach a peace accord, we will see a resumption of the peace process in the coming weeks,” he added.

Netanyahu did not reveal the basis on which the talks would take place.

But George Mitchell, the US Middle East envoy, was in the region at the end of January. He met with leaders on both sides and presented a new initiative aimed at bringing the parties closer together.

At the time, Netanyahu spoke of “interesting ideas,” but did not elaborate.

For his part, Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president, said on Monday that he would give a response to Mitchell’s proposal within a week.

‘US suggestion’

A senior Israeli official told AFP the United States had suggested “discussions take place initially at the level of teams working on different subjects, before proposing confidence-building measures.”

Such a strategy would pave the way for “normal discussions to resume,” the official added, without elaborating.

Abbas has not dropped his demand that Israel halt all settlement growth in the occupied West Bank and mostly Arab east Jerusalem ahead of any talks, or his insistance on a framework of guidelines for the negotiations.

Talks came to an abrupt halt when Israel invaded the Gaza Strip in December 2008 in a brief but very deadly war.

The four-day conference in Herzliya that started on Sunday was attended mainly by Israeli officials to discuss politics and the state of the Israeli nation.

Salam Fayyad, the Palestinian prime minister, met Ehud Barak, the Israeli defence minister, in a conference session on Tuesday – the first meeting of senior officials from the two sides since the talks broke down.

The annual conference has gained a reputation over the years as a platform for announcement of new Israeli policies.


spotted by RS

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