Netanyahu heads to US for peace summit
Jerusalem, August 31, 2010
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu flew to Washington on Tuesday for peace talks with the Palestinians, leaving up in the air the question of future Jewish settlement construction once a partial freeze ends.
The Palestinians have threatened to pull out of the face-to-face peace negotiations, due to begin on Thursday, unless Israel extends the moratorium on new housing starts past its expiration date of September 26.
Netanyahu, who heads a government dominated by pro-settler parties including his own, has given no sign he will continue to curb construction of homes for Jews in the occupied West Bank but told his Likud party a peace deal was possible.
"I am not naive. I see all the difficulties and hurdles and despite this, I believe that a final peace agreement is a reachable objective. Of course, this does not depend just on us," he said on Monday.
Netanyahu added that he hoped to find a "brave partner" in Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who arrived in Washington.
"We are ready for serious, real negotiations that lead to the end of the occupation," Nabil Abu Rdainah, his spokesman, told Reuters by telephone.
The Palestinians wanted the talks to be based on a statement issued by the Middle East Quartet and international law, he added. US Middle East envoy George Mitchell has said the sides will determine the terms of reference when they meet.
Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barak met Abbas in secret in Amman on Sunday, Israel Radio said, although it did not give details of the talks and said Barak reported back to Netanyahu.
In a high-profile drive for peace, which contrasts with low expectations amongst Israelis and Palestinians, US President Barack Obama will host Netanyahu, Abbas, Jordan's King Abdullah and Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak at a dinner on Wednesday.
Israeli-Palestinian peace talks are due to resume, after a 20-month break punctuated by Israel's Gaza war, on Thursday with a ceremony at the State Department. -Reuters
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