Israel says hopes meeting Obama will lead to direct peace talks
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Sunday he hopes his upcoming meeting with President Barack Obama will lead to the current indirect Israeli-Palestinian peace talks bein replaced by direct negotiations between the sides, dpa reported.
"The main goal of the talks with President Obama will be to advance direct talks in the peace process between us and the Palestinians," Netanyahu told ministers at the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem.
"On the issue of direct talks, there is no substitute for entering into such negotiations ... One cannot raise ideas in either the media or by other means, and avoid that direct contact, that is the only possible way to bring about a solution to the conflict between us and the Palestinians. We are 10 minutes apart. Ramallah almost touches Jerusalem," an official cabinet communique quoted him as saying.
Netanyahu is due to meet Obama in Washington on Tuesday.
Indirect Israeli-Palestinian peace talks got under way in April, after Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas had initially refused to conduct negotiations until Israel ceased all settlement activity in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.
The White House said Friday that the four rounds of talks, mediated by US Middle East envoy George Mitchell, who shuttles between Jerusalem and Ramallah, have been "quite substantive" so far.
But Palestinians have denied that progress has been made, and Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Abul-Gheit was quoted by a pan-Arab daily Saturday as saying that Mitchell's approach to the indirect talks might require 10 years to achieve results.
Palestinians also denied a report in the London-based al-Hayat daily, which claimed Saturday that Abbas has agreed that in any peace agreement Israel can retain control of the Western Wall, Judaism's holiest prayer site still in use, and of the Jewish quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem.
Dismissing the report, chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat told Israel Radio that the current indirect talks were secret and would not be released to the public.