Israel tells US envoy security key in peace efforts

President Shimon Peres told visiting US envoy George Mitchell that security must be a top issue in Washington`s efforts to launch indirect peace talks.

Jerusalem: President Shimon Peres told visiting US envoy George Mitchell on Friday that security must be a top issue in Washington`s efforts to launch indirect peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians.
"Resolving security issues is of the highest importance," Peres said at their meeting.

He pointedly recalled that Palestinian militants fired thousands of rockets at Israel after it pulled its troops and settlers out of the Gaza Strip in 2005, but insisted the Jewish state wants peace.

"Israel aspires to a historic peace accord with the Palestinians that will lead to a Palestinian state alongside Israel," said the Nobel Peace Prize laureate, whose presidential functions are largely ceremonial.

The Palestinians, for their part, have said they want the peace agenda to put the priority on the borders of their promised state.

The two sides are widely expected to start indirect, US-mediated talks within days.

Mitchell hopes to finalise an agreement on the format in meetings with Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas later on Friday and Saturday, following similar talks with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu this week.

But both sides` expectations of any significant achievement remain dim.

Mitchell also met on Friday with hardline Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman and opposition chief Tzipi Livni.

Direct negotiations produced virtually no tangible results by the time they collapsed in December 2008 just over one year after they restarted following a seven-year hiatus.

The Palestine Liberation Organisation is due to decide on Saturday whether to proceed with the indirect talks, after which Mitchell will hold a final meeting with Abbas, the Palestinian president`s spokesman said.

At that meeting, Abbas will convey to the US envoy the Palestinians` definitive answer on the talks, Nabil Abu Rudeina said.

Mitchell is then expected to make a formal announcement about the start of the proximity talks on Saturday evening or on Sunday before he returns to Washington, the spokesman said.

The Palestinians had agreed in March to take part in proximity talks but pulled out after Israel announced plans to build 1,600 homes in annexed Arab east Jerusalem.

After receiving US assurances that the Jerusalem settlement expansion plan would be put on hold, the Palestinians eventually agreed to consider a new attempt at proximity talks.

They want east Jerusalem as the capital of a promised Palestinian state, but Israel considers all of the Holy City to be its "eternal and indivisible" capital.

The status of Jerusalem as well as the issue of settlements are among the thorniest in efforts to achieve a peace deal.

In November, Israel imposed a partial, 10-month freeze on settlement construction in the occupied West Bank, but the moratorium does not cover occupied east Jerusalem, or buildings already under construction.

Bureau Report