US/World News

Netanyahu says he’s prepared to take ‘brave steps’ for peace; pans French meeting

(JTA) — Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he supports the establishment of a Palestinian state as long as it is demilitarized and recognizes Israel as a Jewish state. In a speech to the Knesset May 23, Netanyahu said he is prepared to take “brave steps” to achieve peace with the Palestinians, despite his skepticism about France’s upcoming summit aimed at restarting peace talks, The Associated Press reported. Earlier in the day, Netanyhau told French Prime Minister Manuel Valls, who is visiting Israel and the West Bank to drum up support for his peace initiative, that direct negotiations are the only way to achieve peace. “Peace just does not get achieved through international conferences,” Netanyahu told Valls. “It doesn’t get to fruition through international dictates, committees from countries around the world who are sitting, seeking to decide our fate and our security when they have no direct stake.” According to the AP, Netanyahu said he would accept a French initiative that brought him and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas together in a room alone to discuss the conflict’s most difficult issues.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry confirmed that he will attend the summit of foreign ministers in Paris, along with representatives of some 20 countries. Representatives of Israel and the Palestinians were not invited. The summit is set to be the run-up to an international peace conference to be held in the French capital this summer that would include Israel and the Palestinian Authority.

Netanyahu has called on France to cancel the meeting, saying it gives the Palestinians an excuse to avoid face-to-face negotiations. Netanyahu has called for direct, bilateral negotiations between his country and the Palestinians.

At the same Knesset session, opposition leader and Zionist Union chief Isaac Herzog accused Netanyahu of “slamming the door” to peace and becoming a “hostage” to political extremists. Last week, following weeks of reports that Netanyahu was negotiating with the Zionist Union to create a national unity government, the prime minister surprised many when he invited the right-wing Yisrael Beiteinu party into his governing coalition, appointing former Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman as defense minister. Last week the right-wing Jewish Home party approvingly described the new coalition as Israel’s “most right-wing government ever.”

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