Israel's Herzog calls for 'brave' steps in peace talks

AFP , Sunday 1 Dec 2013

Israeli opposition leader Isaac Herzog said Sunday he would push the government to take "brave" steps in US-brokered peace negotiations, after holding talks with Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas.

The meeting at the West Bank headquarters of the Western-backed Palestinian Authority was the first of its kind since Herzog was elected head of the opposition Labour Party at the end of November.

Israel and the Palestinians returned to the negotiating table in July after a nearly three-year hiatus, and following an intense diplomatic push by US Secretary of State John Kerry.

But the negotiations have faltered amid Israeli announcements of new settlement construction in the occupied West Bank and annexed east Jerusalem, lands demanded by the Palestinians as part of their future state.

Herzog said his party, which was in power when Israel signed the Oslo accords with the Palestinians in 1993, is willing to help push the process forward and would urge Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's government to take bold steps to reach a deal.

"The current negotiations brokered by the United States provide a historic opportunity for peace between Israel and the Palestinians, particularly because president Abbas has a real desire to achieve peace," Herzog told a news conference after the meeting.

"I will carry that message to the prime minister... (and) we will try to put pressure on the Israeli government to take brave positions to achieve peace and security for our children," he added.

He said Labour rejects the construction of Jewish settlements "on Palestinian land" and has voiced opposition to recent plans for the construction of 20,000 settler homes in the West Bank.

Herzog also said he discussed with Abbas the possibility of holding a meeting between Abbas and Netanyahu, saying face-to-face talks can help bolster the peace process.

Abbas reiterated his commitment to the full period of talks agreed upon with Washington, with the negotiations extending to April, said his spokesman Nabil Abu Rudeina.

Palestinian negotiators resigned last month in protest at Israeli settlement construction, but Abbas has so far refused to accept their resignations.

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