PARIS - Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Thursday that it was time to move to direct talks with the Palestinians and that he would raise the issue with President Obama in Washington next week.
Netanyahu, after talks in Paris with French President Nicolas Sarkozy, said he wanted 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," he told reporters.
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.
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 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 that he would discuss the peace efforts with Obama next week. "I think there is a broad consensus that we should move on to direct talks," the Israeli prime minister said.
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas said Thursday he hoped indirect talks would yield results in four months, as envisaged.
President Obama has invited Abbas to the White House on June 9 to review progress on the indirect talks. "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."
Israel Prepares for Activists
Israel unveiled a massive makeshift detention center in the main southern port at Ashdod on Thursday, vowing to stop a flotilla of hundreds of pro-Palestinian activists trying to break a three-year blockade of the Gaza Strip this weekend.
Military officials said naval commandos would meet
the eight ships out at sea, escort them to port, and give activists a choice: Leave the country or go to jail.
The tough response could backfire by breathing new life into the activists' mission and drawing new attention to the often- criticized Gaza blockade.
Some 750 activists set sail with 10,000 tons of humanitarian supplies. They are to reach the Israeli coast Saturday.
The volunteers say they are bringing desperately needed materials to the area, blockaded by Israel and Egypt since Hamas extremists violently took control in June 2007.
Israel says the blockade is needed to prevent Hamas from developing weapons.
Israel has condemned the flotilla as a publicity stunt, insisting there is no humanitarian crisis in
Gaza and offering to deliver the aid though official channels.
- Associated Press