Direct talks between Israel and the Palestinians will begin “in the very near future,” with a summit in either Washington or Cairo, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu told reporters in Athens on Monday following a meeting with Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou.

Netanyahu discussed the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Iran, and military and economic cooperation with his Greek counterpart in a one-on- one meeting that lasted an hour and a half. Papandreou and his wife, Ada, then accompanied Netanyahu and his wife, Sara, on a visit to the Acropolis.

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“We are ready to go to Cairo, Washington, ready to go anywhere in order to give flesh and bones to this initiative and get this process moving,” Netanyahu said when asked by reporters whether the talks would begin in Egypt or in the US.

“For the past year and a half, I’ve been trying to have direct meetings, without a predetermined agenda, with the Palestinian Authority,” he said. “We have to have patience. Of course, we won’t need to wait for many months or many years. I believe that with some patience you will see results.”

The Quartet, made up of the United States, Russia, the EU and the UN, is expected to release a statement as early as Tuesday about the basis for direct talks between Israel and the Palestinians, in an effort to bring PA President Mahmoud Abbas to the negotiating table. The US will then issue its own invitation for talks without conditions, as Netanyahu has requested.

The prime minister is working on building a negotiating team for talks with the PA that would be led by his adviser, Isaac Molho. The team will include Foreign Ministry deputy director-general Ya’acov Hadas and representatives from the Defense Ministry, Finance Ministry, IDF and other security agencies.

Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, who opposed indirect talks via US envoy George Mitchell, said it was important for the Foreign Ministry to take part when direct talks began.

One issue holding up the start of the talks has been the Palestinians’ insistence on an extension of the 10-month construction moratorium in Jewish settlements. The PA has rejected several compromises on the matter that were suggested by American officials.

In their joint press conference, Papandreou endorsed Netanyahu’s call for direct negotiations to begin as soon as possible.

“It is necessary that direct talks between Israel and the Palestinians begin immediately,” the Greek prime minister said. “This is the most useful way to achieve a viable peace.”

Netanyahu, Papandreou deny Turkey brought them together

When reporters asked the two men about Turkey, they denied any connection between the strengthening of relations between their countries and the deterioration of ties between Israel and Turkey. They said it was important for Ankara to do its part to improve its international relationships.

In the first-ever visit to Greece by an Israeli leader, the two prime ministers decided to form a committee on enhancing security cooperation between their countries. Netanyahu and Papandreou also discussed increased cooperation on tourism, agriculture, water and energy. A group of Israeli cabinet ministers and businessmen will travel to Athens soon to follow up on the visit.

Netanyahu said Israel and Greece were both nations with a storied historical heritage. He said he spoke to Papandreou about bringing hundreds of thousands of tourists on visits that would include both Athens and Jerusalem.

On Tuesday, Netanyahu will meet with Greek Defense Minister Evangelos Venizelos aboard an Israeli ship that was purchased by Greece. He will also meet with Greek opposition leader Atonis Samaras.


A source close to Netanyahu said he was unaware of a Palestinian flag displayed on the Acropolis by Communist activists ahead of his visit to the site. Security was tight for the trip, with increased patrols in the city center and all cars and pedestrians being kept well away from any areas he was visiting.

A few hundred mainly left-wing and pro-Palestinian activists held a peaceful demonstration to protest Netanyahu’s visit, marching to the Israeli Embassy, which was surrounded by riot police.

Stopping briefly outside Netanyahu’s hotel, they displayed banners reading “Zionist murderer get out” and “Sever all ties with Israel.” About 200 people took part in a separate peaceful protest in central Athens.

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