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Israeli PM heads to Europe for talks
Jerusalem, Aug 24 (Agencies):
Published on 24 Aug. 2009 11:39 PM IST
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Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu heads to Europe on Monday facing international pressure over his settlement policies which are blocking efforts to revive Middle East peace talks. The hawkish Netanyahu will also discuss with his British and German hosts the campaign against archfoe Iran’s nuclear drive, with the United States threatening new sanctions if Tehran fails to return to the negotiating table. Netanyahu kicks off his trip in London where he will meet British Prime Minister Gordon Brown and US President Barack Obama’s Middle East envoy George Mitchell, before heading to Berlin on Wednesday for talks with Chancellor Angela Merkel. He said on Sunday he hoped negotiations with the Palestinians, which have been on ice since the Gaza war at the turn of the year, can resume next month after the UN General Assembly. “There is an assessment that we can (resume talks) by the end of September, depending on understandings between us, the Americans and the Palestinians,” he said at a cabinet meeting, according to a senior official. Mitchell has held intensive talks with Israeli officials in recent months amid a rare public row between the two staunch allies over Washington’s demand that Israel halt all settlement activity on occupied Palestinian land. Britain and Germany are among a chorus of states to back the US demand, seen as key for reviving the peace talks which were halted last December when Israel launched a deadly offensive against the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip. Netanyahu agreed last week to stop issuing construction tenders in the occupied West Bank and annexed east Jerusalem until the beginning of 2010, in a move critics said fell short of the US call for a total freeze. The issue of Israeli settlements, which the international community consider illegal, is one of the main obstacles in the peace process and the Palestinians have said they would not resume talks without a freeze. Netanyahu’s outspoken Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman has described Obama’s vision for regional peace as “unrealistic”. “Bringing President Obama’s dream to fruition in two years, including an overall agreement and a (Palestinian) state, is an unrealistic goal,” Lieberman said on Sunday. The ultra-nationalist, who is known for his anti-Arab stance, said he did not see a peace agreement based on a two-state solution “even in another 16 years.” Mitchell, in a series of regional missions, has been urging Arab states to also make gestures towards Israel as a way of advancing efforts to forge a comprehensive peace deal. King Abdullah II of Jordan -- which along with Egypt is the only Arab state to have a peace treaty with Israel -- held telephone talks with Netanyahu on Sunday and is due to visit Saudi Arabia on Tuesday to meet his counterpart King Abdullah.

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