- Benjamin Netanyahu - Gordon Brown - Iran - Israel - Israeli settlements - Israeli-Palestinian conflict
AFP - Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu began a European tour aimed at placating critics with talks in London Tuesday, as efforts gathered pace to revive Middle East peace talks.
The hawkish premier, who has upset Britain over Israeli settlement activity in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem, was here for his first talks with Prime Minister Gordon Brown since taking power nearly five months ago.
The talks at 10 Downing Street come ahead of a summit on Thursday with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, whose government is traditionally one of Israel's closest allies in Europe.
As well as debating the prospects of peace with the Palestinians, Netanyahu will discuss international efforts to halt arch-foe Iran's nuclear drive. The United States has threatened new sanctions if Tehran fails to return to the negotiating table.
The visit to London offers Netanyahu a chance to patch up relations with Brown's government, which recently said it was "appalled" by the eviction of two Palestinian families from their homes in a district of Arab east Jerusalem which was annexed by Israel in 1967 after the Six Day War.
Israel has come under increasing diplomatic heat over its settlement activity in east Jerusalem and the occupied West Bank and has refused to heed US and other international calls to freeze such construction.
In London, Netanyahu will also meet US President Barack Obama's Middle East envoy George Mitchell. He is pressing Israel hard to freeze settlement activity in the occupied West Bank and east Jerusalem, where the Palestinians hope to establish the capital of their promised future state.
Britain and Germany are among the many states to back the US demand, seen as key to reviving the peace talks halted last December when Israel launched a deadly offensive against the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip.
Netanyahu appeared to be digging his heels in, although he has agreed to temporarily halt inviting construction tenders in the West Bank.
"The prime minister will make it clear (in his talks with Mitchell) that during the process Israel will not allow any limitation or restriction of its sovereignty over Jerusalem and that there must be guarantees settlers can lead a normal life," a senior Israeli official told reporters.
The issue of Jewish settlements, which the international community considers illegal, is one of the main obstacles in the peace process. The Palestinians have said they will not resume talks without a freeze.
On Sunday Netanyahu said he hoped peace talks could resume by the end of September.
A senior Israeli government official told AFP efforts were underway to set a three-way meeting with Obama and Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas in New York on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly next month.
"We hope the conditions will ripen to allow a meeting with Abbas and Obama in New York as a symbolic launching of peace talks," he said.
The US State Department echoed optimism on peace talks, spokesman Ian Kelly saying he was hopeful they would restart "very soon."
There was no Palestinian reaction to the statement, but prime minister Salam Fayyad reiterated the need for a total Israeli settlement freeze to restore the peace talks.
"We're dealing with issues that do not exceed doing what is minimal in order for the process to begin to make sense," he told BBC radio.
Chances of seeing a breakthrough in the peace talks -- first launched in 1993 -- appear slim, with Netanyahu heading a hardline government and the Palestinians still unable to bridge a deep internal rift.
Netanyahu's outspoken Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman has described Obama's vision for regional peace as "unrealistic," saying he did not see a deal based on a two-state solution "even in another 16 years."
Fayyad also said on Tuesday the western-backed Palestinian Authority plans to establish its own de facto state within two years, regardless of the peace process.