Israelis, Palestinians may resume peace talks soon, Netanyahu says
HERZLIYA, Israel - Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel said yesterday that he had reason to believe that long-stalled peace talks with the Palestinians could resume in a matter of weeks.
Netanyahu did not give details, but an official indicated Israel would take a step to make it possible for the Palestinians to agree to talks. He did not elaborate and spoke on the condition of anonymity because no offer has been made.
Palestinians have been insisting that Israel halt all construction in Jewish West Bank settlements before peace talks are restarted. They rejected a partial 10-month freeze Netanyahu imposed in late November as insufficient, because it does not include east Jerusalem, where Palestinians hope to establish a capital.
Netanyahu was speaking at an annual security conference sponsored by the Herzliya Interdisciplinary Center, where Israeli leaders have made significant policy statements in past years.
Netanyahu said at the conference: “I have reason to hope realistically that in the coming weeks we will restart peace talks with the Palestinians without preconditions.’’
Netanyahu praised Palestinian efforts to improve their economy and build institutions, but he appealed to them to accept a resumption of efforts toward a peace accord. “If this willingness indeed exists, we will see resumption of the process in the coming weeks,’’ he said.
Palestinians have said they are considering an offer by US envoy George Mitchell to start a round of shuttle diplomacy with Israel.
A senior aide to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said he was unaware of a possibility to resume talks in the near future. “All we know, all that the world knows is that settlement activity should stop,’’ Nabil Abu Rdeneh said.
“This is the only way to enter serious negotiations that lead to a just, fair and stable peace in the whole region,’’ he added in a statement.
Another Abbas aide, Nimr Hamad, said Palestinians were studying Netanyahu’s remarks as well as Mitchell’s offer.
One obstacle to a peace agreement is a split between the West Bank and Gaza, and a step toward healing that rift was made yesterday.
The Islamic militant group Hamas overran Gaza in 2007, expelling Fatah loyalists of Western-backed Abbas, leaving him in command only of the West Bank.
Yesterday, a senior Fatah official, Nabil Shaath, crossed into Gaza for talks with Hamas, the first such mission since the Hamas takeover.
At a joint news conference in Gaza City after sundown yesterday, Shaath and a Hamas official, Khalil al-Haya, both said the talks were meant to lead to reconciliation, though neither detailed steps to overcome the differences.
But the cordial tone of the meeting was a contrast to a year of insults flying back and forth between the two sides.
Hamas forces looted and burned down Shaath’s Gaza home during the takeover.
“This visit has come late,’’ Shaath said after entering Gaza. “We cannot continue with these divisions.’’
Meanwhile yesterday, Palestinian militants in Gaza fired a rocket into Israel. Police said it caused no casualties or damage. Israel routinely responds to rocket attacks with air strikes at tunnels used to smuggle weapons and explosives from Egypt into Gaza.