Netanyahu: Palestinians Are Dodging Direct Mideast Peace Talks

Palestinian President Abbas has conditioned a move to direct negotiations with guarantees regarding security, borders of a future Palestinian state.

The Palestinian Authority is determined to sabotage attempts to upgrade the ongoing proximity Middle East peace talks with direct negotiations, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Monday, adding that direct talks were the only way to ensure Israel's security interests.

Benjamin Netanyahu, AP, July 25, 2010.

Continuing previous efforts to encourage direct talks with Israel that took place during his stint as president of the European Union that ended one month ago, Spanish Foreign Minister Miguel Angel Moratinos will meet with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in Amman this Tuesday.

Abbas has recently indicated he will resist United States pressure for face-to-face peace talks with Israel for now, saying indirect negotiations must make progress first.

The Palestinian president has said that he wants the indirect negotiations to produce results on the issues of the security and borders of a future Palestinian state to be founded alongside Israel on land captured in 1967.

Speaking at the Knesset's Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee on Sunday, Netanyahu said that as far as Israel was concerned, "direct talks can commence as early as next week," adding that Israel had an "understanding with the Americans that we must move into direct negotiations immediately and without further delay."

However, the prime minister claimed that the PA has responded to its invitation to direct talks with an "effort to evade this attempt."

"If anyone had any doubts regarding the Palestinians' reluctance, it is now crystal clear," Netanyahu said, adding that the PA were "stalling direct talks and relying on the Arab League for support."

The PM argued that while the Palestinians claim they are interested in moving peace talks forward, they in fact were using every excuse to delay any progress, saying that first "they said it was the [settlement] freeze, now it's the borders issue."

"No doubt such negotiations would be difficult, but they would also be desired," the PM said, adding that only through "direct talks can we raise our security demands and interests regarding the issues."

The prime minister also suggested that the attempt to sabotage the move to direct talks was not only conducted by the Palestinians, saying there are "parties who are not enthusiastic both internationally and in Israel," perhaps hinting at leading opposition party Kadima.

"Unfortunately, not all those parties are found outside Israel, and I'm not referring to my colleagues from the right-wing parties of the coalition." He refused to elaborate, but did say that "if you invite me to the subcommittee, things will get very interesting."

Regarding future security arrangements, Netanyahu said that the "arrangements reached with the Palestinians must be such as to withstand any changes in the political and security Middle East map."

"The Palestinians must hold firm even if an eastern front develops, as was the case, for example, before the fall of Saddam Hussein's regime," Netanyahu said, reiterating that any security arrangements with the Palestinians must "stand the test of time."

"We won't compromise security," the premier said, "and that's why the U.S. administration has been notified of our security needs."

On the subject of the West Bank settlement construction freeze, the prime minister said he had not intention to extend the 10-month moratorium, saying "the slowdown was limited in time: It has not changed and that's how it will be."

Referring to his recent meeting with U.S. President Barack Obama in Washington, Netanyahu said his talk with the American president was "frank," adding that Obama has announced that the sides were ready for direct talks."

Over the weekend, Abbas heard in turn from German Chancellor Angela Merkel, British Prime Minister David Cameron and Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi.

Each called on Abbas to announce this Thursday, at the Arab League foreign ministers' summit in Cairo, that he is ready to move to direct talks. All three leaders promised to support him and to head off any Israeli foot-dragging during the talks.

In his address to the Knesset committee on Sunday, Netanyahu also mentioned his conversation with President Obama regarding Israel's nuclear ambiguity policy, saying that "there was an impression among the international community that some shift had occurred in the U.S. position regarding Israel's policy, and it was important to me that the President of the United States would stand firm against that impression and return to clearly re-affirming the traditional U.S. position."

"The president stated that there is no change on this issue," Netanyahu said, adding that he felt President Obama recognized "that Israel is in a special position due to its size, due to the threats it faces, and due to its history."

"That is, Israel is in a special position and different from other countries. It is clear to all that Israel must be able to defend itself against the combination of threats it faces," Netanyahu said.

The prime minister added that the nuclear issue was a central subject in his conversations with the U.S. president, saying that "if someone in the international community believed that Israel's standing had deteriorated, now it is clear that this is not the case but rather the contrary."

The prime minister's comments regarding the U.S. policy toward Israel's supposed nuclear program came in the wake of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty review conference held in May, which called on Israel to agree to international inspection of its nuclear installations, and to the holding of an international conference for a nuclear-free Middle East.

The conference's final document was passed despite Israel's strong protests to the Americans.

In talks since the conference, the Americans made it clear that that decision had been a "mistake." In an effort to clarify the administration's stance on the Israeli nuclear question, it was determined that - in coordination with Israel - the full details of the high-level understandings between the two sides, reached during the 1960s, would finally be revealed.