PARIS - With Britain, France and other key Europeans cool toward Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's entreaties to reject a unilaterally declared Palestinian state, and September fast approaching, the willingness of beleaguered Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi's to side with Israel on the matter, earned him high praise yesterday from the visiting Israeli leader. "You are a dear friend to me and the Jewish people," Netanyahu told his host at a press conference.
Netanyahu reaffirmed Jerusalem's opposition to any bid to win UN recognition of Palestinian statehood and said only direct negotiations could restart the blocked peace process.
Any fiat issued by the United Nations would hinder the peace process," Netanyahu said. "First, it would violate the agreements between the Palestinians and Israel, but it would also harden the Palestinian position because if the UN General Assembly adopts the Palestinian positions in advance of negotiations why should they negotiate?"
Netanyahu's visit comes as part of a series of trips by the Israeli PM to European capitals to try to convince leaders to reject Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas' plan to call for formal statehood at this year's annual meeting of the UN General Assembly.
Since April, Netanyahu has visited Britain, France, Germany and the Czech Republic. He is due to travel to Romania and Bulgaria next month.
"Peace will only come from negotiations. It will be a negotiated peace. It cannot be imposed from the outside, not by any power and certainly not by one-sided UN resolutions," Netanyahu told the news conference yesterday.
As it stands now, Spain seems set to vote in favor of the Palestinian declaration, as do Ireland and possibly Norway. France, too, has indicated it would support Palestinian statehood if peace talks do not restart by September.
Britain is wavering and has suggested it would contemplate a "yes" vote if Israel did not do more to enable talks to resume.
But in Italy, the picture is rosier. "I don't think this in any way would contribute to bringing peace," Berlusconi said at the press conference, joining Germany in establishing the country's commitment against such a unilateral declaration.
As he declared in Washington, Netanyahu said Palestinians must accept Israel's right to exist as a Jewish state for peace talks to be successful, and rejected any possibility of negotiating with Fatah as long as they insisted on moving forward with forming a joint government with Hamas.
Berlusconi seemed to concur: "Making peace," he said, "requires joint initiative and, consequently, requires negotiations."
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