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Israel PM calls for immediate peace talks with Palestinians, imposes silence over Iran deal

AFP , Thursday 1 Oct 2015
Netanyahu
Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during the 70th session of the United Nations General Assembly at U.N. headquarters, Thursday, Oct. 1, 2015 (Photo: AP)
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Israel's prime minister savaged the nuclear deal with Iran, falling silent for nearly a minute at the United Nations Thursday in protest and offering to resume direct peace talks with the Palestinians.

Benjamin Netanyahu addressed the General Assembly as he seeks to repair relations with President Barack Obama, damaged by the Iran deal and the Israeli leader's rejection, while seeking re-election, of a two-state solution.

He held up a book by Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, calling it a detailed plan for the destruction of Israel, and saying that he had vowed Israel would not exist in 25 years' time.

"Seventy years after the murder of six million Jews, Iran's rulers promise to destroy my country, murder my people, and the response from this body, the response from nearly every one of the governments represented here has been absolutely nothing," he said.

"Utter silence. Deafening silence," added Netanyahu, before falling silent for 45 seconds from the rostrum. Not a sound could be heard from the vast General Assembly chamber until he resumed speaking.

"Perhaps you can understand why Israel is not joining you in celebrating this deal," he said.

Netanyahu is fond of gimmicks. Three years ago at the UN, he made headlines with a cartoon of an Iranian bomb and by drawing a line on it.

He reiterated that Israel will do whatever it takes to defend "our state and to defend our people," and prevent an Iranian nuclear bomb.

On the decades-old conflict with the Palestinians, he said he was prepared to "immediately resume direct peace negotiations" without preconditions, although the Palestinians condition a resumption of dialog on an end to settlement building and the release of prisoners.

"Israel expects the Palestinian Authority to abide by its commitments. The Palestinians should not walk away from peace," he said.

Palestinian leader Mahmud Abbas told the Assembly on Wednesday that Israel's refusal to release prisoners and stop settlement activity, meant that Palestinians could not be bound by past agreements.

"President Abbas, I know it's not easy. I know it's hard," said Netanyahu, whose government is one of Israel's most right-wing ever.

"But we owe it to our peoples to try. To continue to try. Because together... if we actually sit down and try to resolve this conflict between us... we can do remarkable things for our people."

His remarks come with Netanyahu scheduled to speak with Obama at the White House in November -- their first meeting after a deep row about the Iranian nuclear deal.

Their frosty relations plummeted further during Netanyahu's re-election campaign when he rejected a two-state solution for peace with the Palestinians.

With the peace process in deep freeze, there are growing fears that tensions like those flaring at Jerusalem's flashpoint Al-Aqsa compound could spark a broader Palestinian uprising.

Abbas warned that recent clashes between Israeli police and Palestinians at the mosque compound risk turning a political conflict into a religious one, "creating an explosive situation."

Netanyahu used his UN speech to commit to the status quo at the sensitive Jerusalem compound, one of his strongest remarks in face of the current tensions.

"Israel will always respect the sacred shrines of all," he said. "Far from endangering the holy sites, it is Israel that ensures their safety," he added.

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