Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Israel PM Netanyahu 'ready for peace talks'

Israel is ready "to immediately begin" peace talks with the Palestinians and Syria, PM Benjamin Netanyahu has said after returning from the US.

But he insisted that any peace settlement "must find a solution to Israel's security needs".

And Arab states joining talks would have to offer concessions - as well as Israel and the Palestinians, he said.

At the talks on Monday, Mr Netanyahu was pressed by President Barack Obama over US plans on a two-state solution.

But the Israeli leader - who also came under pressure to rein in Israeli settlement-building - refrained from endorsing the idea.

Instead he said Israel was ready to live "side by side" with the Palestinians.

Arab 'concessions'

Mr Netanyahu's comments on returning to Israel gave no further encouragement to those seeking a guarantee of full Israeli co-operation with the US-backed peace strategy, correspondents say.

"There was agreement that we must immediately launch peace talks," he said after landing at Ben-Gurion airport in Tel Aviv.

"We also agreed on the need to expand the peace process to Arab states," he said. On-off negotiations with Syria over the Golan Heights, occupied by Israel since 1967, ended before this year's Israeli election.

However, Mr Netanyahu was clear in setting out how any new peace effort would have to proceed.

"Arab states should also make concrete concessions from the start," Reuters news agency reported him as saying.

Meanwhile, an aide to Mr Netanyahu was quoted telling reporters that talk of a two-state solution was "childish and stupid".

The aide, Ron Dermer, quickly clarified his statement, telling the Associated Press news agency that he was referring to the constant media focus on the two-state concept - not the proposal itself.