PM tells UN, US he’s committed to peace

In visit to J'lem, UN's Ban lauds Netanyahu for his commitment to peace, urges him to halt settlement construction.

PM Binyamin Netanyahu with UN SG Ban Ki-Moon 390 (photo credit: Moshe Milner/GPO)
PM Binyamin Netanyahu with UN SG Ban Ki-Moon 390
(photo credit: Moshe Milner/GPO)
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu urged the Palestinians to “stick with” direct talks as he pledged his commitment to the peace process in conversations with three top international leaders Wednesday — UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon, Quartet special envoy Tony Blair and United States Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
He held the three diplomatic conversations as Palestinians in Ramallah weighed pulling out of preliminary talks with Israel, five rounds of which were held in Amman in January. No new date has been set for future talks.
“You can not complete the peace process unless you begin it. If you begin it, you have to be consistent and stick to it,” Netanyahu said during a joint press conference in Jerusalem with Ban.
The UN secretary-general is in Israel and the Palestinian territories for a two-day visit, his second since taking office in 2007.
In his conversation with Ban and in a separate face-to-face meeting in Jerusalem with Blair, Netanyahu asked them to help facilitate future talks.
Ban pledged his support to the continued peace process.
“You can count me in on working together for peace and stability in this region,” he said.
During a phone conversation later in the day with Clinton, Netanyahu said he wanted to continue the talks but that Israel’s security interest must be preserved.
Ban lauded Netanyahu for his commitment to peace but at the same time urged him to halt settlement construction.
He also asked him to advance the peace process with concrete proposals on borders and security as well as concessionary gestures to the Palestinians.
“I hope Israel will be forthcoming with its own concrete proposals on territory and security as called for by the Quartet in order to reach an agreement on all final status issues before the end of this year,” he told Netanyahu.
The prime minister, however, said he rejected the link between settlements and the peace process.
Settlement activity is not the core of the conflict, but one of its results, Netanyahu said. He noted that at least 50 years prior to 1967 the Palestinians and other Arab countries tried to eliminate Israel, even though there was not a single settlement or soldier in the West Bank.
“The real cause of the conflict is the [Palestinians] persistent refusal to recognize the state of Israel as the state of the Jewish people. That is the heart of the conflict,” Netanyahu said.
He added that this should be one of the first topics under discussion, not as a pre-condition, but as part of the mutual recognition.
Israel, he said, recognizes that as part of the peace process a painful agreement is necessary.
But in Ramallah Abbas said he did not yet know if the peace process would continue.
He added that he would hold consultations with Arab countries and various Palestinian groups on the future of the peace talks with Israel.
Speaking to reporters after his meeting with Ban, Abbas said he would brief Arab League foreign ministers later this week on the outcome of the recent talks in Amman between the PLO and Israel.
Abbas said the PA leadership would consult with the Arab ministers and representatives of Palestinian factions about the steps the PA should take given that it believes the Jordan talks failed.
He reiterated his demand for a full Israeli withdrawal to the pre-1967 lines, including east Jerusalem.
Azzam al-Ahmed, a senior Fatah official in the West Bank, said the Palestinians would not return to the “exploratory” talks with Israel unless it froze all construction in the settlements and recognized the pre- 1967 lines as the borders of a Palestinian state. Israel has rejected that call.
Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman (Israel Beiteinu) told Ban he did not believe the Palestinians wanted to advance peace. Instead, he warned, they would seek to sabotage the talks in an attempt to justify further unilateral actions at the United Nations.
Turning to the threat posed by Tehran to Middle Eastern stability, Lieberman told Ban that Iran could attempt to take control of Iraq, thereby creating a regional alliance consisting of Iraq, Syria and Lebanon.
This, he said, would endanger regional security and would pose a particular threat to both Israel and Jordan.
Ban spoke about Iran in his meeting with Lieberman, President Shimon Peres and Netanyahu.
Standing with Netanyahu he called on Iran to comply with all the UN Security Council resolutions and to prove that their nuclear program was for peaceful purposes.
“I have made this quite clear to the Iranian authorities,” he said. “These issues can be resolved in a peaceful way through dialogue. There is no alternative to a peaceful resolution.”
Ban added that he was particularly concerned by the latest report by the International Atomic Energy Association, which said that Iran’s nuclear program could have a military dimension.
He said he was waiting for additional information from a senior level monitoring team.
Ban plans to travel Thursday to Gaza and to visit the Sapir Academic College near Sderot, which has been the target of numerous rockets from Gaza.
Ban has called on the Palestinians to halt rocket fire and for Israel to make further humanitarian gestures to Gaza.