PM: I'm willing to go to Ramallah to talk with Abbas

Netanyahu answers questions from visiting US lawmakers, stresses importance of a US veto against Palestinian statehood bid at UN.

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August 15, 2011 21:59
3 minute read.
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu 311. (photo credit: Moshe Milner/GPO)

 
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Prime Minister Netanyahu told visiting United States lawmakers on Monday that he was willing to travel to Ramallah to meet with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, according a source in the meeting.

The 27 Republican congressmen who spoke with Netanyahu are among a group of 81 lawmakers who are visiting Israel this month, in three separate trips organized by the American Israel Education Foundation, part of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee.

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The congressmen asked Netanyahu if he had a message for Abbas, who they plan to meet with later this week.

Netanyahu suggested they ask the Palestinian leader two questions.

The first involved Abbas’s refusal to negotiate with Israel until it halts Jewish construction in east Jerusalem and the West Bank.

“Ask him, ‘why don’t you come and negotiate with Israel,’” Netanyahu said. “I am willing to immediately start direct negotiations with him without preconditions. I am willing to invite him to my house in Jerusalem and I am willing to go to Ramallah,” said Netanyahu.

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He joked that a Ramallah trip would drive his security detail crazy.

“They won’t be happy,” he said.

The second question, he told the congressmen, involves Israel’s identity as a Jewish state.

“Ask Abu Mazen why he refuses to recognize the legitimacy of the Jewish state. I have recognized a Palestinian state, he [Abbas] should be able to recognize a Jewish state,” Netanyahu said, according to the source.

He spoke with the lawmakers about the importance of a US veto against the anticipated Palestinian bid for unilateral statehood at the United Nations Security Council in September. The US is one of five countries out of the 15- member body, that can veto the Palestinian statehood bid.

It has already stated its opposition to such a move.

Netanyahu told the US lawmakers that a UN vote in favor of Palestinian statehood would harden the Palestinian position for years and make it extremely difficult to negotiate a peace agreement.

Security arrangements have to be built into a final status agreement, so that Israel remains secure if the peace unravels. The agreement, he said, must be phased and contain certain safeguards.

Israel, he told the lawmakers, does not intend to cede to the Palestinian request to return to the pre-1967 borders.

He also spoke of the danger of a unified Fatah and Hamas Palestinian government.

Turning to Sinai, Netanyahu said that terrorist activity backed by Iran and al-Qaida has been increasing there in the last few months.

The threat of a nuclear Iran continues to endanger Israel, the Middle East and the entire world, Netanyahu said.

He praised US President Barack Obama for his sanctions against Iran, but said that such economic measures must be coupled with a credible military threat.

“Iran is the largest danger standing before us today. It is what motivates the leading radical elements and leads to instability in the region. Its goal is to destroy any chance of democratic governance, peace and freedom in the Middle East,” Netanyahu said.

He thanked the congressmen for their support and that of their country regarding the missile defense system, Iron Dome, which thwarts Palestinian launched missiles from Gaza.

This system is already deployed and has succeeded in intercepting missiles aimed at Israeli citizens, he said.

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