Beckett: Israel, Arabs agree on need for Mideast peace

Following talks with Livni, British foreign secretary urges parties not to miss opportunity.

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February 6, 2007 21:41
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For the first time in a "very long time," the moderate Arab countries, Palestinians and Israelis all believe "it is necessary and in their interests" to move forward with a diplomatic process, visiting British Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett said on Tuesday. Beckett said, "It would be a gross dereliction on the part of all the international community not to take advantage of such an opportunity." Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, meanwhile, said in a speech to the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations that he will meet in Jerusalem on February 19 with Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas and US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. This meeting is the outgrowth of Rice's visit here last month and her promise to push the diplomatic process forward. Olmert will meet with Beckett on Wednesday. She arrived Monday evening for a two-day visit to Israel and the PA. Foreign Secretary Tzipi Livni also talked of a moment of opportunity. "It is clear right now that we are on the same side - Israel, the moderates in the Palestinian Authority, the moderate Arab state leaders - and it is important that we use this opportunity to find out what is the best way to use this understanding," she said. Explaining her idea to explore a "political horizon" with the Palestinians, an idea that was enshrined in Friday's statement from the Quartet, Livni said there was a need to distinguish between Palestinian moderates and extremists. She said that while the international community needed to continue with its pressure on the extremists, at the same time a process should be created with the moderate camp "to determine what it is possible to achieve, so that Israel can put on the table its needs that are connected to furthering progress." Livni, asked about work on the new bridge leading to the Temple Mount, said there was no basis to Arab claims that the work would harm the Mount, and that she expected the Israeli Arab leadership to act responsibly on the issue, and not to fan the flames. "Israel's activities are not harming, are not meant to harm, any of the holy places. The opposite is true - they are meant to preserve the site following problems that arose in the past," Livni said. She said that elements both inside and outside the country that were not interested in freedom of worship wanted to take "advantage of any opportunity to stir up the most extreme sentiments." Defense Minister Amir Peretz, before his meeting with Beckett, related to the Hizbullah weapons cache discovered along the northern border on Monday. "We take very seriously the fact that a cache was placed along the fence," he said. "We intend to act against threats to Israel, and we have no intention of returning to the policy of closing our eyes and ignoring the build-up of terrorist elements on the ground." While thanking the UNIFIL forces in southern Lebanon, Peretz warned that Israel would not cede its obligation to act against threats to the state. Earlier Tuesday, Olmert met with IDF commanders at the Tze'elim training camp between Gaza and Beersheba, and discussed implementation of lessons learned from the summer's war in Lebanon. He was accompanied by his military secretary, Maj.-Gen. Gadi Shamni, Deputy Chief of General Staff Maj.-Gen. Moshe Kaplinsky, OC Ground Forces Command Maj.-Gen. Benny Gantz and other senior officers. In a related development, Olmert announced Tuesday that he will travel to Turkey next Wednesday for a 24-hour visit that will include talks with Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul. In addition to addressing the Palestinian situation, the talks are expected to focus on Syria. Turkey has offered in the past to mediate between Jerusalem and Damascus.

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