Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says he is ready for direct peace talks if the Palestinians drop their precondition for a full freeze of settlement activities.
While visiting the United States, Netanyahu said Wednesday that the future of the settlement activities would be among the first topics, reiterating that it was time for the Palestinians to drop the precondition for face-to-face talks.
“Let’s just get into the talks and one of the things we’ll discuss right away is this issue of settlements and that’s what I propose doing,” the Israeli premier said.
Netanyahu’s call for shifting from indirect talks to direct talks comes as Palestinians blame him for blocking the path to face-to-face negotiations by refusing their demand for a freeze in settlement activities.
“We are sincerely interested in starting direct negotiations, but Netanyahu keeps closing the door in front of us,” Palestinian Authority Chief Negotiator Saeb Erekat told Voice of Palestine Radio on Wednesday. “Netanyahu must decide if he wants peace or settlements. He cannot have both.”
“Netanyahu knows well what he needs to do to kick off direct talks. Settlement freeze is the solution,” he added. “We have had a peace process for 19 years, but the Israeli settlement policy has not changed.”
Direct negotiations ended in December 2008 after Israel launched a deadly attack on the Gaza Strip.
Despite strong opposition by rival Hamas, Islamic Jihad and even factions within the Palestine Liberation Organization, the Fatah-led government in Ramallah in May entered into indirect talks, mediated by US Special Envoy to the Middle East, George Mitchell.
The acting Palestinian Authority Chief Mahmoud Abbas said that “there is no progress in negotiations, and the situation is still as it was.”
The peace talks have been seriously affected by Israel’s settlement activities and Israel’s deadly attack on a Gaza-bound aid convoy in late May.
Israel launched an attack on the Freedom Flotilla ship the M.V. Mavi Marmara on May 31, which left nine Turkish citizens dead. The ship was carrying humanitarian aid to the besieged people of Gaza.