'Atmosphere now ripe for peace talks'

Peace Plan to include Is

Peace talks with the Palestinians must resume without preconditions, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said Monday. Speaking at the opening of the Likud faction meeting, Netanyahu said, "My impression is that in recent weeks, there has been a change of atmosphere. I hope that the time is now ripe to move the peace process forward." He stated that preconditions had wasted precious time which could have been spent negotiating a real agreement, rather than a framework for talks. "I believe that negotiations about the nature of negotiations have delayed the process enough and should be dropped," he said. Netanyahu stressed that since the formation of the government in early 2009, he had "called for a resumption of negotiations with the Palestinians without prior conditions." The prime minister went on to say, "I wish for the resumption of talks without preconditions… in which both sides can express their views… and I will insist on maintaining our national interests." The prime minister also addressed earlier reports of a US peace initiative that could result in a Palestinian state in two years' time. "I see in the media certain viewpoints, plans and border lines that have been attributed to me. There is no truth in this. I want to clarify that my views have not changed," he said. Also responding to the US plan, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman asserted Monday that a final status arrangement with the Palestinians could not be reached in the near future. Speaking during a meeting with Quartet Middle East envoy Tony Blair, Lieberman said, "It will not be possible to reach an arrangement on final borders within nine months, nor a complete final status arrangement within two years… This is an unrealistic date." He suggested that the two sides "begin direct talks without committing to any target date." Vice Premier Moshe Ya'alon also responded to reports concerning the Washington peace plan, saying that they were "not even close to being accurate." The leaders' comments followed an Egyptian confirmation that the US peace plan includes Israeli guarantees for the establishment of an independent Palestinian state within two years. A spokesperson for the Egyptian Foreign Ministry told the country's Al Ahram newspaper on Monday that according to the plan, both sides were to exchange formal letters dealing with mutual guarantees. The principles behind the White House initiative reportedly include an immediate resumption of talks between the Palestinians and the Israelis with the defined goal of reaching a final status arrangement within two years. The first issue to be addressed would be that of permanent borders, according to the report. It also said that the target date established by US President Barack Obama to reach a compromise on the border issue was nine months, before the end of the settlement construction moratorium in Judea and Samaria. According to the plan, immediately following the demarcation of defined borders, negotiations would shift to more complex issues ranging from the future of Jerusalem to the status of Palestinian refugees. Obama reportedly expects a formal exchange of guarantees between the Israelis and Palestinians. In conjunction, it is believed by the White House that members of the Arab League will come out in support of this phase of the proceedings in order to help the Palestinian Authority leader raise his stature among the Palestinian public. In an interview with Army Radio on Monday morning, former foreign minister Shlomo Ben-Ami stressed that "Hamas must be included in the process" even if it means losing momentum for jump-starting peace talks with the Palestinians. Ben-Ami went on to say that "the moderate elements will not accept a decision that the extremists will define as treason." Gil Hoffman contributed to this report