Israel hopes for direct peace talks next month
Foreign minister pledges to remain in government for at least a year, but says peace is 'unrealistic goal'.
Israel is hoping to relaunch direct peace negotiations with the Palestinians by late September, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Sunday.
Netanyahu told cabinet ministers that U.S. special envoy George Mitchell's upcoming visit to the region was just part of the "intensive talks and contacts" ongoing in preparation for the diplomatic process.
Preparations thus far have been held in a "positive atmosphere with certain progress, though without definitive agreements," Netanyahu said.
"We are trying to condense the differences," the prime minister said, but added: "I don't think this meeting with Mitchell will be the last before we launch the political process."
Netanyahu is scheduled to travel to London on Monday for a crucial meeting with special U.S. envoy to the Middle East George Mitchell. The meeting is meant to determine Israel's future construction policy in West Bank settlements.
The U.S. administration is keen to gain a freeze on settlement construction for at least a year, but so far Israel has only offered to stop building for six months. But Israeli envoys Yitzhak Molcho and Brig. Gen. Mike Herzog recently briefed a six-minister advisory panel on what they called the narrowing differences between Jerusalem and Washington on settlements.
Also on Sunday, Jordanian King Abdullah II on Sunday telephoned Netanyahu to urge the Israeli leader to create conditions conducive to the two-state solution, according to a statement from the Jordanian royal court.
The two leaders discussed "efforts under way to resolve the Palestinian-Israeli conflict on the basis of the two-state vision and within a regional perspective that leads to comprehensive and durable peace in the region," the statement said.
The monarch urged Netanyahu to "work intensively to create the conditions conducive to the re-launching of serious and effective negotiations at the earliest possible time and in accordance with the agreed references, particularly the Arab peace initiative," it added.
Relations between Jordan and Israel appeared to have turned sour in the past months after a Knesset member called for the creation of a Palestinian state in Jordan.
Over the past couple of days, King Abdullah also spoke by telephone with U.S. President Barack Obama and met with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who visited Amman to discuss moves to spur the stalled peace process.
Lieberman: I won't stand in way of peace process
Meanwhile, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman told a press briefing earlier Sunday that although he does not believe that Israel and the Palestinians can reach a peace accord in the near future, he has no intention to subvert the diplomatic process or resign from the government within the coming year.
"A Palestinian state within two years is not a realistic goal," the foreign minister told reporters on Sunday. "There are those who believe in this and I don't want to disturb [them]."
United States President Barack Obama has presented to Egypt and Israel a plan for a two-state solution to be finalized within two years, the London-based A-Sharq al-Awsat reported in June.
A source in Cairo told the newspaper that Obama raised the plan with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during the latter's visit to Washington earlier this year. According to the report, the plan envisions a Middle East peace deal by 2011 and would encompass an agreement for a Palestinian state.
"I'm willing to allow for a period of time during which there will be another attempt to arrive at a Palestinian state, but I will not take on a task that I do not believe in," Lieberman said.
"Nonetheless, I am not getting in the way nor will I make trouble for trouble's sake," the foreign minister said. "During the first year [in power] the government needs to exhaust all possible [peace] processes."
"I am not setting any red lines and I am giving other officials in the government a chance to prove that I am wrong," Lieberman said. "How I wish I would be proved wrong and there will be peace and brotherhood."