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Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu in the Knesset 311 (R).(Photo by: REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun)
PM calls on Abbas to 'give peace a chance'
Knesset holds session to discuss Arab Peace Initiative; Netanyahu invites Palestinians to the negotiating table.
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu invited Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to the negotiating table in a speech to the Knesset on Wednesday.

“I call on Abbas to put preconditions aside and talk. Give peace a chance,” Netanyahu said in English, quoting the John Lennon song.

The prime minister spoke during a Knesset debate called by the opposition to discuss the stalled peace process and the Arab League peace initiative.

Netanyahu mentioned foreign government officials visiting Israel, saying “They all know Israel is not the side avoiding negotiations,” and that he speaks to US Secretary of State John Kerry several times a week.

“The citizens of Israel want security and peace; I want security and peace,” the prime minister said.

Netanyahu expressed hope that Abbas would say yes to his invitation, and pointed out to MKs who accused him of not being willing to return to peace talks that he had invited Abbas to negotiate while speaking at the UN, in Washington and several times in the Knesset.

Despite these invitations, Netanyahu added, he had only spoken to Abbas for a few hours over the past four years.

The prime minister repeated several times that Abbas should not set preconditions for talks.

“The most important thing is not to try to stop negotiations before they’re started. Don’t have endless talks about starting talks,” he said. “We will listen to any initiative and are willing to discuss any offer that is not a dictate.”

Netanyahu delineated his policy to prevent weapons from reaching Hezbollah or Hamas from Syria, saying he described it to US President Barack Obama during his visit to Israel in March and to Russian President Vladimir Putin.

In her rebuttal, opposition leader Shelly Yacimovich accused Netanyahu of turning Israel into a binational state, which she said went against the vision of Zionism.

“You’re not the national camp, we’re the national camp. You’re the binational camp,” the Labor Party chairwoman told Netanyahu.

Yacimovich called for Netanyahu to break out of the diplomatic freeze and talk to Arab countries that oppose Iran, Syria and Hezbollah in order to make progress in negotiations with the Palestinians.

“No one is living in a fantasy that we’ll come to an agreement tomorrow. It’s all right to be skeptical about the ability to reach our goal, but we must set that goal and at least come to an interim agreement,” she said.

The opposition leader quoted heads of opposition parties who favor peace talks, such as Yesh Atid chairman Yair Lapid, who said he would not sit in a government that did not negotiate.

“Our justice minister [Hatnua chairwoman Tzipi Livni] is in the government for the sole purpose of peace talks. Every other word she says is that she wants to ‘sit in a closed room [with the Palestinians],’” Yacimovich said.

“Be brave. Make your last term as prime minister one that matters, that will take advantage of the regional and internal opportunity,” she added.

The Labor leader told Netanyahu her party would support him if he negotiated: “Your coalition partners are making your life miserable anyway, so what do you have to lose? We’re your rivals but, as fate would have it, we are your defensive shield.”

Peace was an Israeli interest, and we should not pursue it only because the world was asking us to, but because we should take our own fate into our own hands, Yacimovich said.

Still, she said, “it would not be good – and this is an understatement – if the US got sick of us.”

Yacimovich called for the government to take the opportunity for peace talks in its hands, and lift its eyes toward hope.

“[Former prime ministers] Rabin, Begin and Sharon were not less patriotic than [Netanyahu], and they chose, each in his own way, hope and courage. Stop with the scare tactics. We deserve more,” she concluded.

Earlier in the debate, representatives of all the Knesset’s parties discussed peace talks.

“Our great Rabbi Ovadia Yosef ruled in favor of giving up land for peace because it saves lives. However, peace has to be mutual, otherwise it is not peace,” Shas leader Arye Deri said.

Deri criticized the 2005 Gaza disengagement, calling it “stupidity” to evacuate “modest, righteous people, the salt of the earth” from their homes and get tens of thousands of rockets shot into Israel in return.

“Rabin said that before we make peace with our enemies, we need peace among ourselves,” Deri recounted.

“Unfortunately, this government has several ministers who incite.”

Bayit Yehudi faction leader Ayelet Shaked said that most Israelis would not agree to the concessions the Arab League initiative entails.

“Some people latch on to any spin by our enemies.

These are the same people who pushed us into a ‘New Middle East’ and the Oslo tragedy that cost the lives of 1,500 Israelis, created thousands of widows and orphans, tens of thousands of people injured and billions in economic loss,” she said.

The government was not “crazy enough to put our fate in the hands [of the Arab League] and we are not insane enough to give up our country and our capital,” Shaked said.
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