WASHINGTON (JTA) — Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called for the immediate resumption of peace talks with the Palestinians.
“Let us seize the moment to reach an historic agreement; let us begin talks immediately,” Netanyahu said, appealing to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in his speech Monday in Washington to the Jewish Federations of North America.
Netanyahu repeatedly called on Abbas to drop Palestinian preconditions. The Palestinian leadership wants Israel to institute a total settlement freeze as a precondition for talks.
Netanyahu chided the Palestinians for turning aside what he and the Obama administration have suggested is an “unprecedented” offer to freeze some settlement while allowing for “natural growth” and building in Jerusalem.
“No Israeli government has been so willing to restrain settlement activity,” he said.
Netanyahu did not mention earlier Israeli preconditions, including leaving off the table for now Jerusalem and refugee issues, and a refusal to deal with Hamas, the terrorist group in control in the Gaza Strip.
However, he went further than he has in the past in outlining what he means by saying he wants the Palestinians to recognize Israel as a Jewish state.
“What does the Jewish state mean for the Palestinians?” he said. “It means that they must recognize that the fantasy of flooding Israel with refugees is gone, that they give up irredentist claims to the Negev and the Galilee, and that they declare irrevocably that the conflict is finally over.”
This latest formulation omits a demand for an explicit recognition of Israel as Jewish, which is what Palestinian negotiators have until now resisted. Palestinian negotiators have said that such a recognition is not theirs to make; they also worry it would prejudice the rights of Israeli Arabs.
The call for an immediate resumption of talks appears to supersede the recent call by Israel’s foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman, to set aside for now talk of a two-state solution.
Netanyahu said again that the outcome of such talks would be a Palestinian state, albeit one that is demilitarized.
He lavished praise on President Obama, who sustains strong support among American Jews but who is unpopular in Israel.
The Israeli prime minister thanked Obama for opposing efforts in the United Nations to advance the Goldstone report, which accuses Israel of war crimes during last winter’s Gaza war, for sustaining the U.S.-Israel security relationship, and for leading international efforts to stop Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.
Obama was due to address the General Assembly on Tuesday, but canceled to attend a memorial service in Texas for victims of last week’s shooting rampage at a military base in Fort Hood.