Netanyahu tells AIPAC conference Israel is prepared to resume peace talks without delay.
By KHALED ABU TOAMEH, HILARY LEILA KRIEGER
The Palestinian Authority and Hamas on Tuesday rejected statements made by Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu to the annual meeting of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, in which he failed to refer to a two-state solution.
The Palestinians also rejected Netanyahu's demand in his Monday night speech that they accept Israel's right to be a Jewish state.
"We want peace with the Arab world. We also want peace with the Palestinians," Netanyahu declared.
"We are prepared to resume peace negotiations without any delay, without any preconditions," he said. "The sooner the better."
The prime minister, who addressed the thousands of congressmen, diplomats and pro-Israel activists by satellite from Israel, was speaking ahead of his own visit to Washington.
Since entering office, Netanyahu's largely right-wing government has struck a different tone from America on the Israeli-Palestinian diplomatic process, leading some to conclude that the US and Israel are on a collision course on the issue. Notably, Netanyahu has declined to publicly support a Palestinian state, which is a major goal of the Obama administration.
In his comments to AIPAC, Netanyahu did not refer to a two-state solution. Rather, he called for working on three fronts with the Palestinians: diplomatic, security and economic.
The first front, he said, would be the resumption of negotiations, while the economic plank would constitute trying to improve the situation and the prosperity of Palestinians on the ground.
On security, he said that he would never compromise Israelis' safety, but that he wanted to rush ahead with the work of US Lt.-Gen. Keith Dayton to train Palestinian forces in the West Bank.
PA officials in Ramallah said Netanyahu's remarks showed he was not "serious" about reaching any agreement.
They added that the PA would not resume peace talks with Israel as long as Netanyahu did not change his policy toward the Palestinians.
Nabil Abu Rudaineh, a spokesman for PA President Mahmoud Abbas, said any solution that was not based on the two-state principle would be unacceptable.
"Netanyahu's statements are unclear and insufficient," Abu Rudaineh said. "Peace means recognizing the two-state solution and halting settlement activities. Any solutions that are not based on United Nations resolutions are unacceptable."
Chief PA negotiator Saeb Erekat condemned Netanyahu's remarks as "obscure" and "harmful" to the peace process.
Netanyahu's remarks came on the eve of Abbas's visit to Cairo, where he is due to hold talks with President Hosni Mubarak on Wednesday on the latest developments in the region in the aftermath of the establishment of the new government in Israel.
A source close to Abbas said the meeting with Mubarak came ahead of the PA president's planned visit to Washington, where he is expected to meet with President Barack Obama.
"The meeting between Abbas and Mubarak is aimed at coordinating positions ahead of the meeting with Obama late this month," the source said. "President Abbas is disappointed about Netanyahu's position toward the peace process and he will relay this disappointment to Mubarak."
Nabil Amr, the PLO ambassador to Egypt, reiterated the PA's refusal to recognize Israel as a Jewish state.
"This demand was raised during the term of former US president George W. Bush and we rejected it then," he said. "Now that it's being raised again during the term of Obama, we are more determined than ever to say no to a Jewish state."
Amr said that by making this demand, Netanyahu was placing obstacles to peace with the Palestinians and making it impossible for them to resume the peace talks. He stressed that the Palestinians would not return to the negotiating table unless Israel accepted the two-state solution and halted construction in the settlements.
Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum accused the prime minister of seeking to deceive public opinion by talking about peace and the resumption of talks with the Palestinians.
"Netanyahu is trying to cover up for the crimes and massacres that the occupation perpetrated in the Gaza Strip," Barhoum said. "Netanyahu wants to use the negotiations as a cover for his radical racist scheme to establish a Jewish state on the rubble of the Palestinian people's right."
The Hamas spokesman warned the PA leadership against returning to the negotiating table or resuming security coordination with Israel.
"Any resumption of the negotiations with the Zionist enemy would be considered a stab in the back of the Palestinians," he added. "All forms of negotiations, normalization and coordination with the occupation should be ended."
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