Netanyahu says he’s ready to meet Abbas for talks ‘right now’
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Netanyahu says he’s ready to meet Abbas for talks ‘right now’

PM claims he's taken unprecedented steps for peace, tells Palestinian leader to heed calls for direct negotiations

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks to the diplomatic corps at the President's Residence in Jerusalem on May 12, 2016. (Haim Zach/GPO)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks to the diplomatic corps at the President's Residence in Jerusalem on May 12, 2016. (Haim Zach/GPO)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Thursday that he was ready to meet with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas “today” for direct peace talks if the Palestinian leader was so willing, and claimed that he’d done more to advance peace than any other Israeli leader in history.

In a speech before the diplomatic corps at the President’s Residence in Jerusalem to mark Israel’s 68th Independence Day, Netanyahu said he was willing “to meet President Abbas today in Jerusalem. If he’d like, in Ramallah. Right now. Today.”

Acknowledging the “skepticism” about his position, Netanyahu claimed he has “taken steps that no other prime minister in Israel’s history has taken to advance peace,” adding that “so far, they’ve not been answered.”

Netanyahu told the roomful of foreign ambassadors, honorary consuls and military attachés that he continued to “support two states for two peoples: a demilitarized Palestinian state that recognizes the Jewish state.”

Denouncing the Palestinian refusal to recognize Israel as a Jewish state, a key Israeli demand for a peace agreement, Netanyahu said it “remains the core of this conflict,” and “why this conflict preceded the [1967] Six Day War by nearly 50 years.”

The Israeli leader called on members of the diplomatic corps to urge Abbas to accept the call for direct talks, maintaining these were the only way to reach an enduring peace deal.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmud Abbas listens during an exclusive interview with AFP reporters in his office in the West Bank city of Ramallah on April 11, 2016. (AFP PHOTO / THOMAS COEX)
Palestinian Authority President Mahmud Abbas listens during an exclusive interview with AFP reporters in his office in the West Bank city of Ramallah on April 11, 2016. (AFP PHOTO / THOMAS COEX)

“Every minute that President Abbas refuses to accept my call for peace robs Palestinians and Israelis of the opportunity to live without fear. It robs our children and our grandchildren the opportunity they so richly deserve,” Netanyahu said.

Expressing optimism for a wider peace arrangement with regional countries and a “deep and abiding faith…that our century-long conflict will end,” the prime minister said he was heartened to see “formerly hostile states in the region and beyond form new and deep partnerships with us.”

“We might solve the Israeli-Palestinian problem by enjoying the support of Arab states who now see Israel more and more not as an enemy, but as an ally against the forces that threaten their own countries as well,” he said, an apparent reference to Iran who last year signed a nuclear deal with world powers which sought the rein in its atomic program in exchange for sanctions relief.

Israel and many Sunni Arab states were deeply opposed to the accord.

US-brokered peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians collapsed in April 2014 and the prospects of fresh dialogue have appeared increasingly remote.

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