Wednesday, September 15, 2010

PM Netanyahu hosts Abbas in Jerusalem clarifying that the Settlement freeze will expire Sept. 26

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu hosted Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas at his official residence in Jerusalem on Wednesday, in what special U.S. envoy George Mitchell described as a sign that both leaders believe a peace deal can be achieved.

During their meeting in Jerusalem Wednesday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas that Israel plans to resume construction in the West Bank settlements once the moratorium expires on September 26.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and special Mideast envoy George Mitchell also took part in the two-hour meeting at the PM's official residence, where Israeli, Palestinian, and American flags were displayed.

"The prime minister is hosting Abu Mazen (Abbas) in his home in friendship and benevolence, but during the talks themselves, he will insist adamantly on Israel's security needs. There are no compromises on this matter," a senior official in the Prime Minister's Office said.

At the opening of the meeting, a smiling Netanyahu said he was happy to host Abbas, adding that "we have much work to do." Abbas, also smiling, humorously responded by saying the two leaders "haven't met in a while."

When asked prior to their meeting in Jerusalem if they had made progress during their two sessions of meetings at the Sinai resort of Sharm El-Sheikh, Netanyahu told reporters: "We're working on it ... It's a lot of work. And I am glad to have the opportunity to welcome President Abbas and Secretary Clinton here pursuing peace, and I think we should get on with [it]."

The Palestinian leader signed the guestbook at the PM's residence, writing "Today I returned to this house after a long period of absence in order to continue the talks and the negotiations, in hope of arriving at an eternal peace in all the region, and especially peace between the Israeli people and the Palestinian people."

Following the meeting, Mitchell said that Abbas and Netanyahu had discussed difficult issues "up front" and seemed to making progress on the contentious issue of settlement construction in the West Bank.