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Israel still open to negotiations with Palestinians

(Xinhua)

10:17, September 21, 2011

UNITED NATIONS, Sept. 20 (Xinhua) -- Israel is still open to the option of returning to talks with Palestine to create a plan for a two-state solution, an option which wins massive international support, Danny Ayalon, deputy foreign minister of Israel, told Xinhua in a recent interview.

Ayalon insisted that Israel is still "very much ready to negotiate" with Palestine, even as the Palestinian National Authority (PNA) is readying for Palestinian member statehood at the United Nations, to be submitted on Sept. 23.

"Now, we very much would like to see a Palestinian state, which would be living side by side in peace and security with Israel as a Jewish state," said Ayalon, citing the essence of the two-state solution.

The direct Palestinian-Israeli talks were stalled due to what the Palestinians blamed the Israeli decision to go ahead with the settlement construction in the occupied Palestinian territories.

At the same time, Ayalon also echoed a call made on Monday by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for the PNA to abandon its efforts at the UN and return to the negotiating table.

PNA leader Mahmoud Abbas has announced that he plans to pursue statehood for Palestine, which is currently only a permanent observer in the global organization. The bid will be based on Palestine's borders before the 1967 war, with East Jerusalem as capital of the Palestinian state.

The Israeli government has called this move unilateral because a peace negotiation through bilateral talks between Israel and Palestine has not been completed.

The most recent round of direct negotiations between Abbas and Netanyahu ended in Oct. 2010 when Palestine left the talks due to Israel's refusal to renew a moratorium on settlement building in the West Bank.

"By going unilaterally they choose friction and conflict over cooperation and reconciliation and negotiation," Ayalon said. "And by this they are shutting the door on any negotiated solution and this is the danger and I hope that they will not do it."

Abbas has said that he is willing to return to negotiations if they are based on the 1967 borders and if Israel agrees to halt settlement building on occupied lands. He has also maintained that Palestine's quest for statehood at the UN does not contradict or preclude bilateral negotiations between Israel and Palestine.

"We have to be realistic and we are not aimed at isolating Israel or de-legitimizing Israel," he said in a televised speech on Sept. 16. "We want to isolate Israel's policy and de-legalize the occupation."

To become an official UN member state, Palestine must obtain a recommendation of statehood in the form of a UN Security Council resolution, a step that appears problematic for the Palestinians, because of the veto power wielded by permanent council member, the U.S., a close Israeli ally.

If the bid fails in the Security Council, the Palestinians could still get an upgrade from their current status to that of a non-member observer state by submitting a request to the General Assembly, where Palestine enjoys widespread support and veto is not a factor.

"They have not come to the table, and they wanted to push on us through their automatic majority in the General Assembly, with their Arab votes and their Islamic votes, a solution, which is actually their solution, which of course we can never accept," said Ayalon of the PNA.

Ayalon pointed out that other countries have reached UN member state status by resolving all outstanding issues bilaterally first, before submitting a bid.

"We have a good example with South Sudan," he said. "South Sudan joined the United Nations after agreements on the ground were reached among the parties and this is the right way to do it throughout the history of the United Nations."

South Sudan became a state in July 2011 after settling its differences with the north through a comprehensive peace agreement.

"So now, to try and put the process on its head and first to go to the United Nations instead of reaching an agreement on the ground -- it's just a futile exercise," said Ayalon.

Furthermore, Ayalon stated, a preoccupation with the issue of Palestinian statehood will only do harm to the UN as an institution by taking focus away from other pressing global issues.

"The time allocated and the resources allocated for the Palestinian question is coming on the expense of the poor people of Somalia and the hunger and famine over there or the conflicts in Darfur and in other places in the world," he said.

Ayalon explained that there are other issues in the world, aside from the tensions between Israel and Palestine that he believes deserve the UN's attention.

"First and foremost, we have to understand that the Palestinian conflict is one of many conflicts in the world," he said. " However, you would not know that when you read all the debates and discussions in the United Nations."

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