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Berlusconi offers to host Mideast peace talks in Sicily
By GIL HOFFMAN, JPOST CORRESPONDENT
06/13/2011
Italian PM rejects unilateral declaration of statehood despite upgrading Palestinian diplomatic status in Rome.
 
ROME – Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi offered to take personal steps to help restart stalled peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians, telling Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu in Rome on Monday that he would be willing to host negotiations in Sicily.

In a press conference of the two leaders following a meeting that both sides said went well, Berlusconi reiterated his opposition to UN recognition of a Palestinian state at the General Assembly session in September.

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Berlusconi told Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas two weeks ago that it was a bad idea.

“We don’t think a unilateral resolution can help advance peace, not by Palestinians or by Israelis,” Berlusconi said. “The way to advance peace is via negotiations. I would be happy to host peace talks here in the city of Erice [in Sicily].”

Berlusconi said he supported initiating a Marshall Plan to build a Palestinian state economically. Ten Italian companies have agreed to open factories in the West Bank, and 10 tourism companies agreed to come to the West Bank to encourage Italian tourism.

Netanyahu said Berlusconi’s idea could be a model for spurring democracy throughout the Muslim world.

Asked why Italy recently upgraded the Palestinian representative to Italy to the level of ambassador if he opposed unilateral steps toward statehood, Berlusconi said he did not see a contradiction.

“The goal of this decision was to persuade the Palestinians that they have what to gain from coming to the negotiating table,” he said.

Following a joint cabinet meeting, eight Israeli ministers signed agreements with their Italian counterparts. Such a meeting was also held in February 2010 in Jerusalem, and another is planned for next year in Jerusalem.

The Israelis and Italians agreed on a very pro-Israel joint statement that Netanyahu’s office was especially proud of.

“In the wake of fundamental changes in the Middle East, the governments of Italy and Israel share the conviction that a just and lasting solution to the Israel-Palestinian conflict must be reached as a result of direct negotiations between the parties based on the principle of two states for two peoples, with the State of Israel as a Jewish state and the homeland of the Jewish people, and an independent, democratic, contiguous and viable state of Palestine as the homeland of the Palestinian people, living side by side in peace, security and mutual recognition,” the proposal said.

Netanyahu is due to meet in Jerusalem on Tuesday with German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle.

Haaretz reported that Westerwelle intended to warn Netanyahu that if the diplomatic impasse continues, Germany would sponsor a UN Security Council resolution with Britain and France that calls on the council to endorse US President Barack Obama’s recent State Department speech as the basis for talks.

Senior diplomatic officials said they did not think a resolution would be brought to the Security Council because the Obama administration has said clearly that peace would not be achieved via dictates.

They said such statements rule out bringing even the most cleverly worded resolution to the Security Council.

Another official suggested that despite the UN General Assembly’s lack of operative power, a GA resolution with teeth could be worse than a Security Council resolution without them.

The officials were critical of Obama’s proposal to delay talks on the issue of Palestinian refugees until permanent borders are set.

While Obama said the reason for the delay was because the refugee issue was “emotional,” the officials said all issues must be dealt with simultaneously, because for Israel, the refugee issue is not one of emotion, rather of existence.
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