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Israeli defense minister urges Palestinians to return to unconditional direct talks

(Xinhua)

10:30, August 29, 2011

European Union High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Catherine Ashton (L) shakes hands with Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak in Tel Aviv, Israel, on Aug. 28, 2011. (Xinhua)

JERUSALEM, Aug. 28 (Xinhua) -- The Palestinian leadership should abandon its plan to seek recognition of a state at the United Nations in September and return to direct negotiations with Israel without preconditions, Defense Minister Ehud Barak said Sunday in a meeting with EU (European Union) foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton.

"The Palestinians' approach to the UN (United Nations) Security Council and the General Assembly are both poor and unproductive," Barak told Ashton, according to a statement released by his office.

"There's a better way, which is to enter negotiations directly without preconditions. We prefer that, but if it turns out that this can't happen, it is important that the sides (to the conflict) reach a formula that will emphasize the quick transition to negotiations, without attempting to impose preconditions (on each other)," Barak said.

Ashton arrived in Israel Sunday ahead of a meeting of the EU's foreign ministers. Her itinerary includes meetings with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman that will focus on the stalled peace process.

Only four EU member states -- Germany, Holland, Italy and the Czech Republic -- have thus far promised to vote against a resolution at the UN General Assembly recognizing Palestinian statehood.

Despite massive diplomatic efforts exerted in recent months to convince nations worldwide not to support the Palestinian statehood bid, Israeli officials have voiced pessimism in recent days about the chances of the campaign to succeed.

Israel's envoy to the UN, Ron Prosor, in a classified cable to the Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem last week, assessed that Israel "stands no chance" of garnering enough support to derail the Palestinian initiative at the UN, the Ha'aretz daily reported Sunday.

"The maximum that we can hope to gain is for a group of states who will abstain or be absent during the vote," the cable read. Prosor said his assessment was based on dozens of meetings he held with his counterparts at the UN in recent weeks.

The report quoted an estimate by Foreign Ministry sources that 130 to 140 states are expected to vote in favor of a Palestinian state. So far, it is unclear how the EU's 27 members will vote in September.

In a related development, Netanyahu is reportedly considering not attending the upcoming General Assembly session. Instead, government sources said he is expected to dispatch President Shimon Peres as Israel's official representative.

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