Peres, Olmert say new Likud govt will continue peace talks

Israeli President Shimon Peres and outgoing premier Ehud Olmert (pictured) said Israel will continue to pursue peace with the Palestinians even after a new right-leaning Likud government takes office.


AFP - President Shimon Peres on Sunday gave assurances that Israel's new government will keep up peace talks, following EU warnings of "consequences" if it failed to commit to the creation of a Palestinian state.

"The new government is bound by the decisions of the preceding one," Peres told public radio. "There will be a continuity and the continuation of peace negotiations."

Israeli prime minister-designate Benjamin Netanyahu is to present his government to parliament this week, although an exact date has not yet been named.

Netanyahu's premiership has sparked concern, as the hawk opposes the creation of a Palestinian state and has picked as his foreign minister firebrand Avigdor Lieberman, whom critics brand a "racist" for his diatribes against Israeli Arabs.

Outgoing premier Ehud Olmert echoed the sentiment, saying at the start of his final weekly cabinet meeting that "there is no doubt that the new government will do all it can to reach Israel's political dream of living in peace and security."

Peres -- Israel's veteran statesman and Nobel peace laureate -- spoke on the eve of his visit to the Czech Republic, which as current president of the European Union warned last week Israel of "consequences" if its new cabinet did not accept the principle of a two-state solution.

In the face of concern by the EU and much of the Arab world about prospects for peace with Netanyahu at the helm, Peres plans to kick off a media campaign after the new government is confirmed, the Haaretz daily reported.

To that end, he was to travel to the Czech Republic on Monday for a one-day visit, his spokeswoman told AFP.

"The government that will be formed will respect the engagements undertaken by the preceding cabinet," Peres said in Sunday's comments, adding that this also applied to ongoing talks over a prisoner swap with Hamas.

The Czech Republic on Friday warned of "consequences" if the government of Netanyahu did not accept the principle of a two-state solution of the Middle East conflict.

"Relations would become very difficult indeed," said Czech Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg.

"At one of our next ministerial meetings we would have to discuss what consequences the EU would draw from that," he told reporters on the sidelines of a meeting with his European Union counterparts at Hluboka castle in the southern Czech Republic.

He did not elaborate what the consequences may be, but one thing that could be jeopardised would be an idea to formally upgrade EU-Israeli ties.

Netanyahu opposes the creation of a Palestinian state for the moment, saying economic conditions in the occupied West Bank must be improved before negotiations take place on other issues.

Netanyahu put the brakes on the Oslo peace process during his first stint as prime minister in 1996-1999, but signed several agreements with the Palestinians under US pressure.

Last week he said he would pursue peace talks with the Palestinians after US President Barack Obama -- who has vowed to pursue the peace process vigorously -- said peace prospects under him would not get any easier but that the process was just as necessary.

"Peace... is a common and enduring goal for all Israelis and Israeli governments, mine included. This means I will negotiate with the Palestinian Authority for peace," Netanyahu told a Jerusalem conference on Wednesday.

"I think that the Palestinians should understand that they have in our government a partner for peace, for security, for the rapid development of the Palestinian economy," he said.

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