Netanyahu welcomes US invitation

JERUSALEM — Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Friday welcomed a US invitation to restart direct peace talks next month with the Palestinians, but Hamas called it a bid “to fool the Palestinian people.”

By (AFP)

Published: Fri 20 Aug 2010, 2:17 AM

Last updated: Mon 6 Apr 2015, 5:50 AM

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced in Washington that Israel and the Palestinians would resume direct peace talks on September 2, striving for a deal within a year to create an independent Palestinian state.

She said the talks should be held “without preconditions,” whereas the Palestinians had demanded that they be contingent on Israel extending a temporary freeze on Israeli settlement in the occupied West Bank.

“The prime minister has been calling for direct negotiations for the past year and a half,” a statement from Netanyahu’s office said. “He was pleased with the American clarification that the talks would be without preconditions.”

“Reaching an agreement is a difficult challenge but is possible,” the statement added.

“We are coming to the talks with a genuine desire to reach a peace agreement between the two peoples that will protect Israel’s national security interests, foremost of which is security.”

Defence Minister Ehud Barak, Netanyahu’s partner in the centre-right coalition government, added his endorsement of Washington’s invitation.

“Israel wants peace with security,” he said in a statement. “Both sides will need to make courageous decisions in order to reach an agreement.”

Hamas, the Palestinian Islamist movement that rules the Gaza Strip, shot down Washington’s call for direct peace talks.

“Hamas rejects the American call for the resumption of Israeli-Palestinian negotiations,” Sami Abu Zuhri told AFP in Gaza City. “The Palestinian people will not feel bound by the results of this misleading invitation.”

“This invitation is a new attempt to fool the Palestinian people after the Annapolis experience, during which we were promised a Palestinian state within a year, but many years have passed and we are still at square one,” he said.

Abu Zuhri was referring to formal restarting of peace negotiations between Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas and then Israeli premier Ehud Olmert in the United States in November 2007, after a seven-year freeze.

US President Barack Obama will host Netanyahu and Abbas, as well as Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and Jordan’s King Abdullah II, Clinton said in her announcement.

The executive committee of the Palestine Liberation Organisation, which groups the main Palestinian factions with the exception of Hamas, was meeting late on Friday night to decide on a formal response to the invitation.

A senior official of Abbas’s Fatah party said it favoured attending the talks and had made a recommendation to that effect to the PLO committee.

Senior PLO member Mohammed Dahlan said the diplomatic Quartet’s statement contained “many guarantees for the Palestinians.”

“We are going based on the Palestinian conditions and not the Netanyahu conditions,” he added.

The Quartet — the European Union, the United Nations, the United States and Russia — in a statement said its members reaffirmed strong support for direct negotiations “which can be completed within one year.”

It called on Israelis and Palestinians “to resolve all final status issues and fulfill the aspirations of both parties.”

The Quartet said “direct, bilateral negotiations that resolve all final status issues” should “lead to a settlement, negotiated between the parties, that ends the occupation which began in 1967 and results in the emergence of an independent, democratic, and viable Palestinian state living side by side in peace and security with Israel and its other neighbours.”

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