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Middle East

Netanyahu welcomes return to indirect talks

media Netanyahu delivering a speech during a conference in Tel Aviv, 13 December Reuters

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Monday that a return to indirect peace talks could improve the prospects of peace in the Middle East. He welcomed Washington’s decision to ditch its call for a freeze on settlement building in his first public comments on the change to United States policy.

“The US has understood after a year and a half that we were in a pointless discussion about the marginal issue of building in settlements,” Netanyahu said during a business conference in Tel Aviv.

He said that the US had understood the “core issues” at the centre of the conflict between the Israelis and Palestinians.

Last week the US admitted that it had failed in securing an agreement on a freeze to settlement building. Instead there would be a return to so-called proximity talks.

US Middle East envoy George Mitchell is expected to arrive in Israel on Monday evening for a meeting with Netanyahu. He is then to hold talks with Palestinian leader Mahmud Abbas.

The old settlement freeze agreement expired at the end of September just weeks after Israel and Palestinians resumed direct peace talks. Talks subsequently collapsed.

The main stumbling blocks in negotiations remain: the final borders of Jewish and Palestinian states; the status of Jerusalem; Israeli security and the fate of Palestinian refugees.

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