Israeli PM: Palestinians not interested in peace talks
JERUSALEM -- Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu charged Monday that the Palestinians have no interest in restarting peace negotiations, suggesting that newly resumed contacts between the sides are producing little progress.
Israeli and Palestinian negotiators began meeting in Jordan on Jan. 3 in an attempt to find a formula to restart formal negotiations. Israeli-Palestinian talks have been stalled for more than three years over the issue of Israeli settlement construction.
"For the last three years, the Palestinians have refused to enter negotiations, thinking they could impose preconditions upon us," Netanyahu told lawmakers.
"The Palestinians have no interest in entering peace talks. I'm ready to travel now to Ramallah to start peace talks with Abu Mazen, without preconditions. But the simple truth is that Abu Mazen is not ready," he said. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas is widely known as Abu Mazen.
Netanyahu's comments were relayed by a meeting participant who spoke on condition of anonymity because the meeting was closed.
Abbas says the Palestinians will not resume talks unless Israel stops building in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, areas Israel captured in the 1967 war from Jordan and claimed by the Palestinians as parts of their future state.
Abbas said growth in the settlements, now home to some 500,000 Israelis, is a sign of bad faith by Israel. Israel maintains that the issue of settlements would be solved automatically once there are agreed-upon borders.
Meeting in London Monday with British Prime Minister David Cameron, Abbas called for urgency in the attempts to restart peace talks, repeating his demand for a halt to Israeli construction in the West Bank.
"Settlements have to stop in order for us to be able to continue our negotiations -- to come to some sort of solution which will encompass the vision of the Palestinian state to come in the future," Abbas said, speaking through a translator.
The talks in Jordan are taking place under the auspices of the international "Quartet" of Mideast peace mediators. The Quartet hopes to broker a peace deal by the end of this year.
In October, the Quartet -- the U.S., U.N., E.U. and Russia -- asked the two sides to produce proposals on territory and security within three months. The Palestinians believe the deadline is Jan. 26, while Israel considers that three-month period to have begun when the talks resumed on Jan. 3.
Three meetings have taken place in Jordan so far, and the sides have agreed not to comment publicly on the discussions.
In his testimony Monday before a parliamentary committee, Netanyahu accused the Palestinians of violating that agreement. He did not elaborate.
Saeb Erekat, the Palestinian chief negotiator, denounced Netanyahu's comments as a "baseless attack."
Speaking in London, Erekat said, "The Quartet representatives and the Jordanian side know very well what is happening."
Also Monday, an Israeli military court sentenced a Palestinian man to five consecutive life sentences in prison for the grisly killing of five members of an Israeli family last March.
Amjad Awad was convicted in November for infiltrating the West Bank settlement of Itamar and stabbing five people to death. The victims included the parents, a 3-month-old baby girl, and two other children, ages 4 and 11.
A military spokesman said the judges "expressed shock that he did not regret his actions" during his sentencing Monday.