Netanyahu Says 'Direct Talks' Only Way to Peace

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu restated that face-to-face talks were the key to peace with the Palestinians, in talks with Germany's foreign minister who wound up a trip to Israel on Tuesday.

"Peace will be achieved only through direct negotiations and not through unilateral moves," Netanyahu told Guido Westerwelle, according to a statement issued by his office after the two met in Jerusalem on Monday.

He was referring to the proposed bid by Palestinians to seek U.N. membership next week.

"The two men discussed the challenges anticipated for later this month," the statement said. It did not give Westerwelle's comments but earlier in his trip he called for "negotiations and not confrontation."

On Tuesday, Westerwelle wound up his two-day flying visit to the Middle East with a helicopter tour of Israel and a military briefing on its security concerns, the German embassy said.

In Jordan, he met King Abdullah, Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh, and Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas, while in Israel he met President Shimon Peres, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman and Netanyahu.

During his talks with Abbas, Westerwelle urged him to tread carefully in his U.N. gambit, warning that it could ultimately harm peace efforts.

"Germany ... supports the aim of a viable Palestinian state as a result of negotiations," a German foreign ministry statement quoted him as saying at their meeting in Amman on Sunday evening.

"Steps that risk to make any progress towards a two-state-solution more difficult should be avoided," he said. "With a view to a possible Palestinian request to the U.N., the decisive question was what would serve the peace process and what would hamper it."

Attempts to negotiate an end to Israel's 44-year occupation and establish an independent Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, with its capital in east Jerusalem, ground to a halt last September after the expiry of a temporary ban on settlement building, which Israel refused to renew.

Abbas has said he would no longer negotiate while settlements continued to grow and the Palestinians decided on the U.N. route as an alternative strategy.

Netanyahu's office said the two men also discussed "tension with Turkey" which has spiraled since Israeli commandos last year stormed a Turkish vessel seeking to breach the Jewish state's naval blockade on Gaza, killing nine people.

Ankara this month expelled the Israeli ambassador and suspended all military and defense ties with Israel, in retaliation for Israel's refusal to apologize for the incident, in which it said its soldiers acted in self-defense.

Turkey has further said that its naval forces would accompany any future Turkish aid vessel to the Gaza Strip, prompting the Israeli side to describe it as a "grave and serious" threat.

Source: Agence France Presse

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