Israel claims progress in effort to restart Mideast peace talks
Main issue discussed at Netanyahu's meeting with U.S. officials Thursday was the package of incentives Obama administration will offer Israel if it extends a freeze on settlement construction.
NEW YORK - After more than six hours of talks with American officials yesterday, a member of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's entourage said that progress had been made on efforts to restart Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, but stopped short of saying there had been a breakthrough.
The main issue discussed Thursday was the package of incentives the United States will offer Israel if it extends a freeze on settlement construction.
The fact that the talks went on for much longer than planned indicates that both sides are keen to make progress, the Israeli official said.
Earlier Thursday, Netanyahu said Israel is quite serious about reaching a final peace deal with the Palestinians and hopes to broaden the process to include other Arab countries. He spoke at a photo session before meeting privately in New York with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
Netanyahu said he and Clinton had consulted intensively by phone over the last few weeks, but had not met face-to-face since an opening round of Israeli-Palestinian negotiations in September. The talks broke off shortly thereafter, and the Palestinians refuse to resume them unless Israel extends the settlement freeze.
"We've been talking and will talk today about how to ... continue this process to get the historic agreement with peace and security between us and the Palestinians," Netanyahu said. "I would like to add that we also hope to broaden it to many other Arab countries. So this is our common goal. We're quite serious about doing it and we want to get on with it."
Asked by a reporter whether peace talks would resume soon, Clinton replied, "That's what we're going to be discussing. We're both very committed to it."
On Wednesday, Clinton criticized Israel's proposal to build 1,300 apartments in East Jerusalem, which the Palestinians want as the capital of a future state.
Meanwhile, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman said yesterday there was no possibility of making peace with Syria while President Bashar Assad remains in power.
"Only a political hypochondriac could say Syria is a partner for peace, certainly under the current leadership," said Lieberman, speaking during a tour of the Golan Heights.
But Lieberman has not always seen eye-to-eye with Netanyahu, and the prime minister has at times disowned his foreign minister's pronouncements.
During his Golan visit, Lieberman also accused Syria of being "the center of world terror," noting that Hamas and other jihadist groups have their headquarters in Damascus.
"These are facts that are difficult to ignore," he said.
Damascus demands that Israel commit to a total pullout from the Golan under any deal. But Lieberman insisted, "It must be clear that the Golan Heights was always a part of Israel."