As talks begin, PM calls Abbas his ‘partner for peace'

Netanyahu tells PA president "history has given us a rare opportunity to end the conflict... to end the bloodshed” in Washington ceremony.

311_Netanyahu, Clinton, Abbas and Mitchell at table (photo credit: Moshe Milner / GPO)
311_Netanyahu, Clinton, Abbas and Mitchell at table
(photo credit: Moshe Milner / GPO)
WASHINGTON – Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu pledged to make “painful concessions” in search of a lasting peace with Palestinians as the two sides formally began direct talks at the US State Department on Thursday.
“President Abbas, history has given us a rare opportunity to end the conflict... to end the bloodshed,” the prime minister declared, looking across at the Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, a leader he several times described as his “partner.”
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“A true peace, a lasting peace, would be achieved only with mutual and painful concessions from both sides – from the Israeli side, from the Palestinian side,” Netanyahu said as he sat beside US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Abbas in an ornate State Department hall before heading to their three-way meeting.
“The people of Israel, and I as their prime minister, are prepared to walk this road and to go a long way, a long way in a short time, to achieve a genuine peace,” he told Abbas. “I am fully aware [of] and I respect your people’s desire for sovereignty. I am convinced that it’s possible to reconcile that desire with Israel’s need for security.”
Netanyahu also referenced the “core issues” that divide the two sides, outlined by Clinton in her introductory remarks, as subjects to be addressed in “serious negotiations.”
“The core issues at the center of these negotiations – territory, security, Jerusalem, refugees, settlements and others – will get no easier if we wait,” she said. “Nor will they resolve themselves.”
Abbas spelled out these issues as well, including water and the release of prisoners, as necessary “to end the occupation that started 1967, the occupation of the Palestinian territories, and in order to create the state of Palestine that lives side by side with the State of Israel, in order to end the conflict and end the historic demands in the Middle East.”
But while he mentioned Jerusalem, as Clinton did, he did not call for it to be the capital of the future Palestinian state as he usually does when he discusses the city.
Netanyahu, too, avoided the contentious issue by not even mentioning Jerusalem, shifts that suggested the two men are toning down some of their rhetoric and not seeking to highlight the most contentious issues.
Similarly, while Abbas called for a halt to settlement activity, he made no mention of extending the settlement moratorium. The downplaying of the issue in his public statements comes amid reports that the US is quietly brokering a deal on the matter, as the moratorium Netanyahu instituted under American pressure last November is set to expire at the end of the month.
In another departure from the past, Netanyahu once again called Abbas his partner for peace. The prime minister has hardly if ever used this phrase before this week, and in public and private has frequently questioned whether a partner willing and able to make a deal exists on the other side.
On Thursday, he leaned toward Abbas and said, “I see in you a partner for peace.
Together, we can lead our people to a historic future that can put an end to claims and to conflict.”
Clinton sees previous failures as experience gained
Despite the shift toward a more positive tone, which the US has encouraged, Clinton acknowledged that the difficulties in reaching a deal were significant. She also noted that many similar peace processes had preceded this one, which she tried to put in a positive context by emphasizing the experience the assembled leaders and their staffs brought with them.
“For many of us in this room, this is not the first trip to the negotiating table,” she said. “We’ve been here before and we know how difficult the road ahead will be.
There undoubtedly will be obstacles and setbacks. Those who oppose the cause of peace will try in every way possible to sabotage this process, as we have already seen this week.”
Both Netanyahu and Abbas also condemned the two Hamas shootings that left four Israelis dead and two wounded.
After their speeches, Clinton gave a warm handshake and a smile to both Abbas and Netanyahu, before the two men reached across the table to shake each other’s hand.
Netanyahu concluded his speech by referring to the need for a “durable, lasting peace for generations” and then saying peace in three languages: “Shalom, salaam, peace.”