Netanyahu: Israel ready for new peace talks - any time, any place

Netanyahu: Israel ready for new peace talks - any time, any place
# 02 May 2010 04:29 (UTC +04:00)
Baku-APA. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Saturday night praised the Arab League’s endorsement of renewed peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians, scheduled to start mid-May, APA reports quoting website.

Arab League nations earlier on Saturday backed a resumption of negotiations, raising hopes that indirect talks brokered by the United States could revive the stalled peace process.

Responsing to the League’s decision, Netanyahu said in a statement: "Israel is willing to renew negotiations with the Palestinians at any time and at any place."

He added: "This time the talks will talk place without pre-conditions, unlike in the previsou 16 years."

Arab League Secretary General Amr Moussa told reporters after a meeting of Arab officials in Cairo that the regional body would back indirect negotiations between Palestinian and Israeli officials.

"The timeframe of indirect talks will not change from what was agreed to in March, and there will be no change from indirect talks to direct talks until after the outcome of indirect talks has been assessed," he said.

Saeb Erekat, the chief Palestinian negotiator, said the condition for Arab League support would be a halt of Israeli settlement construction in the West Bank.

"If Israel builds one house in the West Bank, Palestinians will immediately stop the negotiations," he said.

Speaking to Reuters by phone after the meeting, Erekat said a final decision would be made by the Palestinian Liberation Organization executive committee next week.

"It was a very positive meeting and they made a consultative decision on engagement in proximity talks for four months."

Arab League backing is key if Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas is to risk opposition from Palestinian hardliners backed by Syria and Iran and embrace negotiations that have been on hold since the three-week Gaza war began in December 2008.

In March, a majority of Arab League nations backed the talks, but they later retracted the decision after Israel announced it would erect 1,600 settler homes in the West Bank.

Syria and Lebanon did not support the statement, Syria’s ambassador said, demanding tighter conditions on Israel before talks could resume.

On Friday, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said she expected indirect talks to begin next week. U.S. special envoy George Mitchell is expected to return to the region to energize the negotiations that are a key U.S. foreign policy goal.

An Israeli political official said Mitchell was expected back in the region on Monday.

Abbas has insisted Israel freeze settlement building before he would be willing to come to the negotiating table. But Palestinian sources have suggested he might accept a delay to some housing projects instead and have spoken of an unwritten commitment from Mitchell to assign blame publicly to any party that jeopardizes the talks.

Erekat said the Palestinian side had been given ’positive indications’ by the United States but declined to elaborate.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is planning to visit Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak next week. Egypt was the first Arab nation to sign a peace treaty with Israel.