Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Sunday that he intended to embark on negotiations with the Palestinians honestly, but assured ministers at the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem that he would stand his ground on Israel's security needs throughout the talks.
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"I am committed to two objectives that must guide the result … if there will be a result. And if there will be a result, it will be put to a national referendum," he said at the start of the cabinet meeting, two days after U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry announced that direct Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations were due to begin next week in Washington. "Negotiations with the Palestinians will not be easy but we are entering them with integrity, honesty and hope.
"Our negotiating partners will have to make concessions that enable us to preserve out security and crucial national interests," Netanyahu said, adding that the negotiations would be conducted in a responsible, serious and businesslike fashion and that "at least in the early stages they will also be carried out discreetly."
Kerry made his announcement on Friday following six visits to the region within four months and countless hours in talks with Netanyahu and Abbas.
In his first comments on the matter on Saturday, Netanyahu called the resumption of peace talks "an essential strategic interest for Israel," important not only for ending the conflict with the Palestinians, but also significant in light of the Iranian threat and the civil war raging in Syria.
Kerry's message on Friday was short and brief and did not mention what the basis of the peace talks would be. He made no mention of issues such as the 1967 lines, recognition of Israel as a Jewish state, the Palestinian demands for a construction freeze in the settlements, and the release of prisoners.
Kerry stressed that not all details have been finalized and that the in talks next week in Washington the sides will discuss the final details of the principles of the negotiation. Once the talks in Washington will conclude, he will issue another statement, he said. Kerry also lauded Netanyahu and Abbas for the seriousness that they have showed in recent months.
President Shimon Peres, meanwhile, called Abbas on Saturday nightand congratulated him on his decision to resume negotiating with Israel.
“There is no alternative to peace,” Peres told Abbas, according to a statement released by the President's Residence. “You’ve made a brave and historic decision; don’t listen to the skeptics, you’ve done the right thing.”
Peres told Abbas that he believed Netanyahu was approaching the talks with serious intentions. “Netanyahu understands that this is a historic call. We want to see both peoples resolving this conflict,” Peres told his Palestinian counterpart.
Abbas told Peres in response that he hopes the talks would make progress and lead to the establishment of an independent Palestinian state that will live in neighborliness and peace with Israel.
“We must continue the peace process that we started a few years ago and finish it,” Abbas said.
Peres also spoke by phone with Kerry and thanked him for his efforts toward restarting the talks.
“There are still obstacles before us, but this is a significant opportunity,” Peres said.