Netanyahu gives no ground on talks

ISRAELI Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gave no ground on peace with the Palestinians in a speech yesterday, reasserting they must recognise Israel as a Jewish state if they wanted a deal for a state of their own.

In the policy speech, Netanyahu again attacked a UN report that accused Israel, along with Hamas militants, of war crimes in the December-January Gaza conflict. He said Israel would resist any attempt to try its leaders on such charges abroad. Opening the winter session of parliament, Netanyahu gave no indication that intense efforts by US President Barack Obama to restart peace negotiations suspended since December were making any progress.

“There is no alternative to Palestinian leaders showing courage by recognising the Jewish state... This has been and remains the true key to peace,” said Netanyahu.

He made no mention of a main issue holding up a return to talks on Palestinian statehood – building in Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank that Palestinians say must stop in accordance with a 2003 peace “road map”. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has rejected Netanyahu’s recognition demand on the grounds it did not figure in interim agreements and would, Palestinian officials argue, prejudge the outcome of negotiations on the fate of Palestinian refugees.

Washington’s Middle East envoy George Mitchell ended his latest shuttle mission to the region on Sunday with no sign of any breakthrough in a peace quest that Obama, who won the Nobel Peace Prize on Friday, has embraced against tough odds. Speaking only generally, Netanyahu told parliament: “We are working to ensure our efforts with the Obama administration will bring about their resumption soon.” Netanyahu’s office said on Sunday two Israeli envoys would hold talks with US officials in Washington this week.

Obama has said he wants a progress report on Mitchell’s efforts from secretary of state Hillary Clinton in mid-October.

In the address, Netanyahu described as absurd a UN report that alleged war crimes in the 22-day Israeli offensive in the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip with the declared aim of ending cross-border rocket attacks.

The report, issued last month by South African jurist Richard Goldstone, urges the UN Security Council to refer war crimes allegations to the International Criminal Court in The Hague if either Israeli or Palestinian authorities fail to investigate those suspected offences within six months. “We will not agree to a situation in which Ehud Olmert, Ehud Barak and Tzipi Livni, who sent [Israeli] soldiers to defend our cities and citizens, will be summoned as defendants to The Hague,” he said, referring to the former prime minister, current defence chief and ex-foreign minister. Palestinian rights group have said 1,417 Palestinians, including 926 civilians, were killed in the Gaza war. Israel has said 709 Palestinian combatants were killed along with 295 civilians and 162 people whose status it was unable to clarify.

Ten Israeli soldiers and three civilians were killed during the conflict.

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