JERUSALEM/LONDON/PRAGUE (BosNewsLife)– The United States said Wednesday, April 1, it was expecting “frank discussions” with Israel’s new government, which is challenging key conditions of past peace negotiations with Palestinians.
President Barack Obama remains committed to “a two-state solution” to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, said the White House in a statement monitored by BosNewsLife in London, after Benjamin Netanyahu began his second term as Israel’s prime minister.
Israel’s new Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman declared Wednesday, April 1 that Israel “is not bound” by commitments it made at a U.S.-sponsored conference in 2007 aimed at creating a Palestinian state, prompting the White House to react.
President Obama “has said many times that we are committed to the establishment of a democratic Palestinian state living side by side with Israel in peace and security,” explained Mike Hammer, spokesman for the White House National Security Council.
“We are committed to working vigorously for this two-state solution,” he added in published remarks. “We look forward to working with the new Israeli government and understand that we will have frank discussions, and that these discussions will be based on an underlying shared commitment to Israel and its security.”
In Qatar Wednesday, April 1, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas criticized Prime Minister Netanyahu, saying he “does not believe in peace.”
Abbas told the Palestinian news agency the Israeli leader, whose government was inaugurated late Tuesday, March 31, never believed in creating an independent Palestinian state and plans to expand Jewish settlements in territory claimed by the Palestinians.
He urged the international community to put pressure on Israel, the Voice of America (VOA) network reported.
Netanyahu has made clear however that his new coalition government wants peace with Arabs, but “will not let anyone question Israel’s right to exist”, a reference to militant groups in Palestinian territories.
Besides his Likud Party, he gathered the support of three other right-wing parties, plus the left leaning Labor. Together they hold 69 of the 120 seats in parliament.
Netanyahu said he wants the Palestinians to govern their own lives, but in a way that would not threaten Israel’s security. Amid heckling by leftist and Arab lawmakers, he offered Tuesday, March 31, to seek a “permanent arrangement” for limited Palestinian self-rule. “We do not wish to rule another people,” the conservative leader said in a speech to the Knesset, Israel’s parliament.
And, speaking in the Czech capital Prague, Israeli President Shimon Peres suggested he expected significant progress in solving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict this year.
“They say we shall continue the negotiations with the Palestinians, we shall negotiate with each of our neighbours… and see what can be done in terms of peace on the regional level,” Peres said Monday, March 30, during his visit to the Czech Republic, which currently holds the EU’s rotating presidency. “I would say this is a very reasonable and promising beginning.”
But the Israeli-Palestinian situation is complicated by divisions between Abbas’ Fatah party and the Palestinian group Hamas, observers said. Officials from the rival groups resumed reconciliation talks in Cairo Wednesday, April 1. to try to work out a power-sharing agreement, VOA reported. Yet, previous talks have ended without success.
(With reporting by BosNewsLife’s Stefan J. Bos, Jerusalem Bureau Chief George Whitten and reports from Jerusalem, London and Prague)