JERUSALEM (JTA) — Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Israel was ready to enter serious peace negotiations with the Palestinians, while his coalition partner Naftali Bennett said a pact would lead to more violence.
“Our fervent hope is for peace, a genuine peace that can be achieved only through direct negotiations without preconditions,” Netanyahu said at the start of a meeting Tuesday morning with Georgian Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili. “We’re ready to enter such negotiations. I hope the Palestinians are, too.”
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry is scheduled to arrive in Israel later this week in a bid to bring the two sides back to the peace table.
Bennett, head of the Jewish Home party, told Israel Radio Tuesday morning that a peace agreement with the Palestinians would lead to more rocket attacks and rock throwing.
“If you look at when there’s violence, it follows peace agreements,” Bennett said. “The public sometimes forgets, but an overwhelming majority of the Palestinian public voted for Hamas.”
He added that he “won’t oppose negotiations” as long as there are no preconditions.
The Palestinians have called for a freeze on construction in the settlements and the release of Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails before they will return to the negotiating table.
On Tuesday morning, chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said the Palestinians were ready to start talking and had never demanded preconditions in order to return to negotiations.
Erekat told Army Radio that he was asking the Israelis for an agenda for the negotiations, not preconditions.
“If you say no to the ’67 border, no to Jerusalem, no to refugees, no to the military, what is there to negotiate with you about?” he said.
The Palestinian Authority denied a report Monday on Israel’s Channel 2 that P.A. President Mahmoud Abbas was prepared to resume talks.
Bennett also told Israel Radio that the Israeli public wants the government to concern itself with economic issues, not peace negotiations.
“The public elected us to invest in economic and social issues, to lower the cost of living, and not in cocktails in Oslo,” he said.
Bennett said he opposed more withdrawals and instead called for joint economic development with the Palestinians.