Israeli PM seeks compromise on settlements
London: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Tuesday that he will seek a compromise with the United States that would allow Israel to proceed with some settlement construction while restarting peace talks with the Palestinians.
In Europe on a four-day tour, the Israeli leader met Tuesday with his British counterpart, Gordon Brown, as his country faces a firm international front against its settlement policy in the West Bank.
The key meeting of Netanyahu`s trip comes Wednesday, when he meets US Mideast envoy George Mitchell for talks aimed at hammering out a compromise on an issue that has turned into an unusually public disagreement between Israel and its most important ally.
Netanyahu is trying to balance the US demands against those of his right-leaning ruling coalition. The Palestinians have said they will not resume talks until the Israelis agree to a settlement freeze.
"What we`re seeking to achieve with the United States in the talks we`ve conducted, and will conduct tomorrow and will conduct after tomorrow is to find a bridging formula that will enable us to at once launch a process but enable those residents to continue living normal lives," Netanyahu said, referring to the some 300,000 Jewish settlers in the West Bank.
"Normal lives" is the phrase Israeli representatives has been using to refer to construction that allows for the growth of settler families. The settlers live among 2.5 million Palestinians in the West Bank, land the Palestinians want for a future state.
Both Israel and the US signaled ahead of Netanyahu`s visit that they have made progress toward a compromise, and Nir Hefetz, a spokesman for Netanyahu, said Israel hopes to restart peace talks within two months.
The Israelis have dropped hints that they would like to see a meeting between Netanyahu and the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, at the meeting of the UN General Assembly in New York next month. Asked about that possibility at a briefing for reporters in London, Netanyahu said only that "time will tell."
Brown said he made clear in talks with Netanyahu that settlement activity was a barrier to Mideast peace, but also said he was "more optimistic than before."
"I am increasingly confident, however, that there is a genuine will to make progress, that a freeze in such activity would result in meaningful steps toward normalization from Arab states," Brown said. President Barack Obama has been pushing Arab countries to encourage peace talks by warming relations with Israel, an effort that has been inconclusive so far.
In his briefing for reporters, Netanyahu repeatedly said the Palestinians had yet to truly come to terms with Israel`s existence as a Jewish state, and that they would need to do so before a peace deal would be possible. The Israeli leader said he would make that point at the other two key meetings he has this week with Mitchell and German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
He also criticized the Palestinians for demanding a settlement freeze before resuming talks.
The Israelis have been playing down the prospect of a breakthrough at Wednesday`s meeting with Mitchell. Hefetz, the Netanyahu spokesman, said only that there was likely to be "certain progress," and that was echoed Monday in Washington by State Department spokesman Ian Kelly, who said the sides were "getting closer" to a deal.
Israeli-Palestinian talks have been on hold since Netanyahu`s predecessor, Ehud Olmert, left office in March.
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