Peace with Palestinians doable: Benjamin Netanyahu

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said a settlement with the Palestinians would be "difficult but achievable," as he addressed a sceptical Israeli public on revived US-sponsored peace talks.

Jerusalem: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said a settlement with the Palestinians would be "difficult but achievable," as he addressed a sceptical Israeli public on revived US-sponsored peace talks.

"I know there is a lot of doubt after the 17 years which have passed since the start of the Oslo (peace) process," he told reporters at the start of a weekly cabinet meeting. "It`s understandable why such scepticism exists."

Netanyahu and Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas have accepted a US invitation to relaunch direct peace negotiations in Washington on September 2 following a 20-month hiatus.

It will be the latest in a series of attempts since secret talks in the Norwegian capital produced a 1993 "Declaration of Principles" on autonomy with the goal of a peace agreement which has yet to materialise.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton`s announcement on Friday of yet another relaunch was welcomed by Netanyahu but received without enthusiasm by a jaded Israeli media.

The main Friday evening television news ran only a brief report, devoting far more airtime to a row over who should be Israel`s next armed forces chief and a regional heatwave.

Sunday`s Israeli newspapers, the first to be published since the announcement, were equally low-key, with most popular dailies carrying the news on inside pages with gloomy commentaries.

"Many words have passed between the sides over the past 17 years," columnist Nahum Barnea wrote in the mass-circulation Yediot Aharonot. "Between the words there were not a few dead and wounded, and still there is no peace agreement."

A string of interim agreements followed the 1993 deal, giving the Palestinians limited autonomy pending a "final-status" settlement on an independent state.

Top-level talks were held in 2000 between then Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat at the US presidential retreat of Camp David, without success and triggering a second intifada, or uprising.

In 2003, the diplomatic Quartet of the United States, Russia, the European Union and United Nations came up with the "roadmap" blueprint for peace, aiming to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict by 2005.

Only its opening phase has been implemented.

In November 2007, the peace process was relaunched amid fanfare in Annapolis, near Washington, but talks ground to a halt again when Israel launched a major assault on the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip in December 2008.

"We`ve seen this movie before," Barnea continued. "And we`ve seen it again and again and again. It`s hard to believe that this time it will have a happy ending."

The free distribution daily Israel Hayom, which supports Netanyahu, also had reservations.

"The festive dinner at the White House will be impressive," wrote Zalman Shoval, a confidante of the prime minister and former Israeli ambassador to the United States.

"One can only hope that the fate of the process it will be launching will not be the same as that (started) at another ceremony on the White House lawn 17 years ago," when Arafat and then Israeli premier Yitzhak Rabin shook hands.

The left-leaning Haaretz daily acknowledged the low expectations but argued it could give Netanyahu, who heads a coalition with left- and right-wing partners, a tactical advantage.

"Expectations for the renewed negotiations are negligible," Haaretz wrote.

"Such public apathy is convenient for a politician who wants to turn his back on prior positions without incurring any condemnation, criticism or coalition turmoil," it said.

"It`s what Netanyahu needs to prepare the general Israeli public ... for a change in his approach to managing the conflict."

Bureau Report

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