Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Monday that the "conditions are ripe" for renewing peace negotiations with the Palestinians, adding that he planned to raise the issue with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak during his visit to Cairo this week.
"I hope we have reached the time to renew the peace process," Netanyahu told diplomats gathered at the foreign ministry in Jerusalem. "The time for excuses is over. Now is the time for action."
Former justice minister Yossi Beilin told the Meretz party leadership on Sunday that Netanyahu was close to finalizing an agreement with the administration of United States President Barack Obama for peace talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.
The process would last two years, according to Beilin, and would discuss the Palestinian demand for borders based on the 1967 lines and will include an exchange of territory and suitable security arrangements.
These are the terms of the agreement being hammered out between Netanyahu and the U.S. government on Israeli negotiations with the Palestinian Authority - that Netanyahu is willing to agree that the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations will last for two years, Beilin said.
The Prime Minister's Office said Beilin's comments were "unfounded," adding that discussions were ongoing but no agreement has been reached.
However, when asked about Beilin's statements, a senior U.S. administration official said: "Things are moving in this direction, but the deal isn't done yet. There are several issues still outstanding."
Netanyahu leaves tomorrow for talks in Cairo and appears set to present the agreements to Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.
Beilin, who revealed Netanyahu's plan to declare a 10-month freeze on settlement construction a week before the prime minister made the announcement, based his statement on information he received from talks with Israeli and foreign officials. He said at a closed meeting of the Meretz leadership that Netanyahu and his special envoy for negotiations with the Palestinians, Yitzhak Molcho, had completed most of the work on the terms of reference for negotiations with the Palestinians during meetings with U.S. envoy George Mitchell.
At the meeting, Beilin described what he said were the agreements Netanyahu has reached with the Obama administration:
* Timetable: Netanyahu is willing to accept the U.S. proposal to allot 24 months to talks, but doesn't want to announce that the goal is to reach a deal by the end of that period.
* Borders: Netanyahu has agreed that the goal of the talks is to end the conflict and reconcile the Palestinian position of establishing an independent state on the basis of the 1967 borders, with the exchange of agreed-upon territory, and the Israeli position of a Jewish state with recognized and secure borders that will meet Israel's security needs.
* Jerusalem: Netanyahu has agreed that the status of Jerusalem will be discussed in the negotiations, but has not agreed to any preconditions on the issue.
* Refugees: Netanyahu said he was willing to discuss the refugee issue only in a multilateral framework.
* Previous agreements: Netanyahu is willing to commit to all previously signed agreements.
* Arab peace initiative: Netanyahu is not willing to support the plan, but is willing to say both sides are taking into consideration international initiatives that contribute to the advancement of the peace process, such as the Arab peace initiative.
Mitchell is expected to visit Israel and the Palestinian Authority in the second week of January to complete talks on the terms of reference for negotiations, Beilin said.
He warned Meretz leaders that Netanyahu may try to counteract the agreement by appeasing the right, which could undermine peace talks.
"If Netanyahu acts as he did with the freeze, when he approved hundreds of new housing units, it will wreck any chance of renewing negotiations," Beilin said.
Beilin said Netanyahu's position has encouraged the United States about the possibility of renewing negotiations soon.
"Their primary effort is to convince the Palestinians to accept it," said Beilin. "The American feeling is that Abu Mazen [PA President Mahmoud Abbas] will agree to this formulation."
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