Monday, August 23, 2010

Netanyahu responds to PA threat : No preconditions ahead of peace talks

(Ynet)."Israel is not setting any preconditions ahead of the direct talks," Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's office said Monday.

Netanyahu's media advisor, Nir Hefetz, said the PM is "justifiably stressing the importance of security arrangements and demilitarization as part of any peace agreement."

Netanyahu was responding to the Palestinians' threat that they would suspend negotiations should Israel resume construction in the West Bank after the moratorium expires on September 26.

The possibility of extending, or ending Israel's moratorium on West Bank settlement construction will be discussed within the context of upcoming direct Middle East peace talks, State Department spokesman Philip J. Crowley said Monday.

Crowley said Monday that the United States believed that "once that negotiation starts, it will be incumbent upon both the Israelis and Palestinians to avoid steps that can complicate that negotiation."

"Settlements are an important issue," Crowley said, adding that Washington expected "to address settlements, as well as the other crucial final-status issues within the context of the negotiation."

The Assistant Secretary of State for Public Affairs added that the United States was "very mindful of the moratorium and the fact that it comes up for a reconsideration during Septembe," adding, however, that this issue will be discussed "within the negotiation. That's why we want to get the negotiation."

"None of these issues can be resolved outside of this negotiation," Crowley said, adding that the U.S. was "very mindful of the Palestinian position. We're now into direct negotiations; we expect that both parties will do everything within their power to create an environment for those negotiations to continue constructively."

The forum of seven ministers has been debating the matter extensively, and Minister Dan Meridor (Likud) suggested resuming construction only in settlement blocs that are expected to remain under Israeli control as part of any agreement.

PM Netanyahu also insists that construction will resume in all Jewish settlements in accordance with the government's decision, but he is willing to examine Meridor's proposal so as not to be accused of thwarting the direct negotiations.