In his first remarks on the troubled Middle East peace process since taking office, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed on Sunday to hold talks with the Palestinians.
In a phone call with Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas, Netanyahu “spoke of the cooperation and the discussions that they have had in the past and added that he intends to do so again in the future in order to advance peace between us and the Palestinians,” a statement from his office said.
Abbas had called Netanyahu for the Jewish holiday of Passover and the two had a “friendly and warm” conversation, it said.
The statement did not mention the creation of a Palestinian state — an idea that Israel had committed itself to under a 2003 international “roadmap” peace plan but that Netanyahu currently opposes.
Abbas insists that Israel’s new government must commit to a two-state solution before the resumption of peace talks and Israel’s staunch ally Washington has also repeatedly reaffirmed its support for a Palestinian state.
A senior official from Abbas’ office would only say that the president had called Netanyahu to “congratulate him on Passover.”
Later on Sunday Abbas met Saudi King Abdullah to brief him on the peace process and also on reconciliation talks between rival factions Fatah and Hamas, Palestinian spokesman Mahir Karaki said in Riyadh.
Netanyahu’s statement was his first on the Middle East peace process since he took office on April 1 at the helm of a largely right-wing government that has sparked concern over the fate of the stalled negotiations.
Until now, the only comments on the topic were made by Netanyahu’s firebrand Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, who had said the new Cabinet was not bound by a 2007 agreement reached at a peace conference in Annapolis, Maryland, to revive negotiations on core issues.
Netanyahu’s opposition to the idea of a Palestinian state — he wants the economy in the occupied West Bank to improve first — and Lieberman’s rhetoric risk putting Israel on a collision course with the US.
US President Barack Obama has vowed to vigorously pursue peacemaking and following Lieberman’s remarks on Annapolis reaffirmed his support of the peace agreement.
“Let me be clear: The United States strongly supports the goal of two states, Israel and Palestine, living side by side in peace and security,” Obama said in an address to the Turkish parliament last week during a European tour.
“That is a goal shared by Palestinians, Israelis and people of goodwill around the world,” he said. “That is a goal that the parties agreed to in the roadmap and at Annapolis. And that is a goal that I will actively pursue as president.”
Obama and Jordan’s King Abdullah II will discuss Middle East peace efforts at a White House meeting next Monday, the Jordanian palace said on Sunday.
“The summit will focus on efforts to reach a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and realize comprehensive Middle East peace,” it said in a statement issued in Amman.
“The king will convey the united Arab position [on the peace process],” the palace said.