Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu called on Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas Sunday to sit down with him in direct talks until “white smoke emerges,” an allusion to how popes are selected.

Netanyahu’s comments came in direct response to an interview Abbas gave a day earlier on Palestinian television, where he said a peace agreement with Israel could be signed within two months if Netanyahu showed “goodwill.”

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Abbas said that decisions, not negotiations, were needed.

“I am prepared to immediately sit privately for direct, continuous negotiations with Abu Mazen [Abbas] until white smoke emerges,” Netanyahu said. “If Abu Mazen will agree to my suggestion to directly discuss all the core issues, we will know very quickly if it is possible to reach an agreement.”

In an interview last week with Channel 10, the prime minister said that in June 2009, in his speech at Bar-Ilan University, he set clearly his policy.

“There I said as follows: If the Palestinians recognize a Jewish state, if they shelve the idea of the Palestinian refugees’ right of return, if they have a demilitarized Palestinian state that recognizes the Jewish state – I tell you here and now that I will go with this to the end and that no coalition consideration will stop me, and I have no doubt that a majority will support me.”

He also said, in that interview, that he was opposed to a division of Jerusalem agreed upon by former prime minister Ehud Olmert, whereby the Arab neighborhoods would be turned over to a Palestinian state.

Abbas, during his interview, said that east Jerusalem was occupied land where Palestinians wanted to establish their capital, and that this was not up for discussion.

He suggested that Netanyahu adopt the positions of his predecessor, Ehud Olmert, who was willing to give up some 94.5 percent of the West Bank, agree to land swaps to make up for most of the rest, divide Jerusalem and put the “holy basin” under the administration of Israel, the PA, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and the US.

“We were close to an agreement,” Abbas said. “The Palestinian position is clear to the Israelis and the Israeli position presented by Olmert is clear to us.”

Netanyahu has said on numerous occasions that since Abbas did not accept Olmert’s offer, it would not be the starting point for future talks.


Meanwhile, Israel Radio reported that chief PLO negotiator Saeb Erekat said a draft resolution condemning Israel’s settlement construction beyond the Green Line would be submitted to the UN Security Council in the coming days.

He said the Palestinian delegation to the UN approved a draft of the proposal to the Security Council, but officials in Ramallah believe the US would veto the resolution if it made it to the Security Council.

AP contributed to this report.

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