Israel says direct negotiations best path to peace

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JERUSALEM – Face-to-face negotiations are still the best path to peace with the Palestinians, an Israeli official said Saturday dismissing calls for a new peace plan as premature.
On Friday, Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas called for the international community, spearheaded by the peacemaking Quartet of the United Nations, the United States, Russia and the European Union, to come up with a new approach.
“We demand that the Middle East Quartet and the various UN bodies, headed by the Security Council, draft a peace plan which conforms with international law, instead of keeping up negotiations which do not solve the problem,” he said, without elaborating. But Shahar Azrami, an Israeli foreign ministry spokesman, disagreed.
“Israel has been quite adamant in the last few months in trying to get the Palestinians to sit with Israel around the negotiating table and only once this option is exhausted should we think about trying to reach new solutions,” Azrami told AFP.
“We haven’t reached the moment yet, at least as far as Israel is concerned, in which we give up negotiations,” he said. On Friday Abbas laid the cornerstone of a new Palestinian embassy in Brazil, part of a strategy to clinch recognition of Palestinian statehood from as many countries as possible as a prelude to going to the Security Council and asking to be admitted as a full UN member.
Brazil was the first of several Latin American states that recognised Palestinian statehood this month within the borders of 1967, the boundaries that existed before Israel captured the West Bank, including east Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip in that year’s Middle East war. Argentina, Bolivia and Ecuador have followed suit and Uruguay said it will do likewise later this year.
Israel opposes such moves and has reportedly ordered its own diplomats worldwide to mount a counter-offensive. “It would be more viable to seek peace in the immediate neighbourhood, that is through direct negotiations with Israel rather than elsewhere in the world, be that in South America or in the United Nations,” Azrami said.
Direct talks between Israel and the Palestinians, the first for nearly two years, began on September 2 but stalled after a 10-month Israeli settlement-building freeze expired three weeks later and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu refused to renew it.