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Israel: Time for direct talks with Palestinians

 Benjamin Netanyahu
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addresses reporters following his meeting with French President Nicolas Sarkozy at the Elysee Palace in Paris on Thursday.Remy de la Mauviniere / ASSOCIATED PRESS
/ Source: The Associated Press

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Thursday it's time to move to direct talks with the Palestinians and that he will raise the issue with President Barack Obama in Washington next week.

Netanyahu, after talks in Paris with French President Nicolas Sarkozy, said he wants to move beyond indirect "proximity talks" that are being mediated by the United States.

"We want to move as speedily as possible to direct talks because the kind of problem that we have with the Palestinians can be resolved in peace and can be arranged only if we sit down together," Netanyahu told reporters at the French presidential palace.

Indirect talks began early this month and have raised hopes that direct negotiations could begin soon.

The Palestinians have insisted that Israel impose a full freeze on settlement construction in the West Bank and east Jerusalem — captured areas they claim for their future state — in order to hold direct talks.

Plans to discuss with Obama
With Netanyahu ordering only a partial freeze, the indirect talks gave the Palestinians political cover to resume a dialogue with Israel. The Palestinians have given the talks up to four months to succeed. After that, they say they will decide whether to continue the dialogue, hold face-to-face negotiations with Israel or break off the talks.

Netanyahu said Thursday he would discuss the peace efforts with Obama in Washington next week. "I think there is a broad consensus that we should move on to direct talks," the Israeli prime minister said.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said Thursday he hoped indirect talks will yield results in four months, as envisaged.

"Of course we are committed to peace and to achieving peace through negotiations," Abbas said during a visit to Malaysia. "We will see what will happen. Anyhow, we are hopeful."

In Paris, Netanyahu said Sarkozy "discussed ways that France could help to expedite this process of negotiations." Sarkozy's office did not elaborate.

The French president has encouraged peace efforts in the past, and offered Thursday to help revive peace efforts between Israel and Syria, according to the French president's office.

Netanyahu praised Sarkozy's efforts toward tough new sanctions against Iran over its nuclear activities, which Western powers and Israel fear are aimed at making weapons but which Tehran says are aimed at producing nuclear energy.

Netanyahu is in Paris for a ceremony welcoming Israel into the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, a group of leading world economies. Palestinian officials opposed OECD membership for Israel, citing Israel's occupation of the West Bank and discrimination against its own Arab minority.

Slovenia and Estonia accept invitations
Slovenia and Estonia also officially accepted invitations to full OECD membership at the ceremony.

The new members will take the OECD's roster to 34 countries once ratification takes place in individual OECD member states, a process that will take several weeks, OECD chief Angel Gurria said.

The OECD is essentially an economic think tank that advises the world's richest countries on the best practices in matters including trade, corporate governance and taxation.

Netanyahu called Israel's membership in the OECD "a historic occasion."

"Karl Marx and Groucho Marx were both wrong," the Israeli prime minister joked, "free markets are the wave of the future, and I can think of no club that Israel would more like to join than the OECD."

Netanyahu said in an interview with the French daily Le Figaro that "one of the current challenges is to develop the economic situation of the Palestinians," which he says "could greatly help" peace efforts.

He did not lay out any proposals for boosting the Palestinian economy, which suffers from high poverty and unemployment.

Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, who chaired the OECD's annual ministerial meeting, said Israeli membership in the OECD would help advance the cause of peaceful negotiations with the Palestinians.

"I think it's very good that Israel is joining the OECD," Berlusconi said. "Anything that Europe and the international community can do to encourage the continuation of peace talks is very positive."