Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu intends to lead the direct negotiations with the Palestinians due to be inaugurated in Washington on September 2. Netanyahu says he plans to focus on security arrangements before addressing final borders.
Speaking behind closed doors, Netanyahu said the success of the talks will hinge on understandings between the leaders. "I will want to reach agreed principles with the Palestinian leadership and there will be no need for many teams [of negotiators] and hundreds of meetings .... If I get the security that will ensure that no missiles will fall on Tel Aviv, it will be possible to move quickly toward a comprehensive arrangement," he was quoted as saying.
Netanyahu said during his meetings he wants to discuss security issues with the Palestinians first; only then would the two sides focus on borders of a future Palestinian state.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had announced Friday that Israel and the Palestinian Authority would resume direct negotiations for the establishment of a Palestinian state. The talks will be inaugurated at a two-day summit in Washington, which will follow an 18-month lull in the negotiations.
In addition to Netanyahu and PA President Mahmoud Abbas, U.S. President Barack Obama has invited to the summit Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, Jordan's King Abdullah II, and the head of the Quartet, former British Prime Minister Tony Blair.
Obama will hold separate meetings with each of the leaders at the White House on September 1, and will then host a joint dinner. The inauguration ceremony will take place a day later under Clinton's auspices. The event will probably include speeches by the leaders and initial negotiations about the first round of talks, which are likely to take place shortly after.
Sources close to Netanyahu said on Saturday that most of the negotiations will take place in Israel or the region and not in the United States.
Both Clinton and U.S. special envoy George Mitchell said over the weekend that the negotiations will aim to reach a permanent settlement and the establishment of a Palestinian state in a year. They said the negotiations will focus on all core issues: Jerusalem, borders, refugees, security, settlements and water.
Clinton noted that there will be no preconditions - this is considered a major achievement for Netanyahu, who insisted that the direct talks take place unconditionally.
In her announcement over the weekend, Clinton also did not mention the September 26 expiry of the freeze on settlement construction.
The Quartet's announcement also made no mention of the construction freeze or building in East Jerusalem. It just referred to its previous statement on the subject, which calls for a construction freeze.
The Quartet issued a statement calling for talks that "lead to a settlement ... that ends the occupation which began in 1967 and results in the emergence of an independent, democratic and viable Palestinian state living side by side in peace and security with Israel and its other neighbors."
The Americans offered few details at the press conference that followed, but Clinton recognized that there would be obstacles and warned that the enemies of peace would try to foil the talks.
"As we move forward, it is important that actions by all sides help to advance our effort, not hinder it. There have been difficulties in the past, there will be difficulties ahead. Without a doubt, we will hit more obstacles," Clinton said.
"But I ask the parties to persevere, to keep moving forward even through difficult times and to continue working to achieve a just and lasting peace in the region."
The chief Palestinian negotiator, Saeb Erekat, said the Israelis "have a choice now whether to choose settlements or peace. I hope they choose peace. I hope that Mr. Netanyahu will be our partner in peace ... and we can do it."
The Islamist group Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip, dismissed the direct talks as a U.S. attempt to "fool the Palestinian people." But U.S. officials said Hamas would have no role in them.
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