Netanyahu spells out conditions for peace deal
Days ahead of a new round of peace talks, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu laid out conditions he viewed as key to any agreement with the Palestinians, starting with the recognition of Israel as "the national state of the Jewish people".
AFP - Just ahead of renewed talks with the Palestinians, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday restated what he said were essential components of a peace agreement, chief among them recognition of Israel as the Jewish homeland.
Netanyahu is to meet Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas in Washington on Thursday for the first direct negotiations since the Palestinians broke off talks in December 2008, when Israel staged a bloody offensive into the Gaza Strip.
Speaking to reporters at the start of the weekly cabinet meeting, Netanyahu said an agreement would have to be based "first of all on recognition of Israel as the national state of the Jewish people, an end to the conflict and an end to further demands on Israel."
The Palestinians object to endorsing Israel as essentially Jewish, as that would imply they were dropping their claim that refugees who fled or were expelled when Israel was created in 1948, and their descendants, should be able to reclaim former homes now within Israel.
Netanyahu said he would also be seeking "real security arrangements on the ground" that would prevent a recurrence in the West Bank of events that took place in the Gaza Strip after Israel pulled out in 2005 and in south Lebanon after the Israeli withdrawal in 2000.
The Islamist Hamas seized control in Gaza and used the coastal strip as a launching pad for attacks into Israel. Lebanon's Shiite Hezbollah fought a bloody war with the Jewish state in 2006.
Netanyahu plans to personally lead the talks and hopes to meet the Palestinian leader Abbas every two weeks, a senior Israeli official said on Friday.
Key to the discussions will be the future of a partial Israeli moratorium on settlement construction in the occupied West Bank, which is due to end on September 26.
Netanyahu faces strong pressure at home not to renew the freeze on new construction permits, while Abbas has warned that "if Israel resumes settlement activities, including in east Jerusalem, we cannot continue with negotiations."
The international community considers settlements in the West Bank, including Israeli-annexed east Jerusalem, to be illegal. They are home to about 500,000 Israelis.
Jordan's King Abdullah II and Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak met in Amman on Sunday for talks ahead of the Washington summit, the royal palace and Barak's office said.
Jordan and Egypt, both of which have peace treaties with Israel and share borders with it, have been invited to attend the formal launch of the Washington talks.
A statement from Barak's office quoted him as telling Abdullah that Jordan had a central role to play in regional peace efforts.