JERUSALEM, (AP) – Israel’s new prime minister spoke to the Palestinian president on Sunday for the first time since taking office, telling him that he seeks close cooperation to drive peace efforts forward.
Talk of cooperation alone, however, is unlikely to satisfy the Palestinian leadership, which wants Israel’s new government to make an unambiguous endorsement of the idea of an independent Palestinian state.
While repeatedly saying he wants peace with the Palestinians, Benjamin Netanyahu has refused to support the internationally backed idea of a Palestinian state alongside Israel since taking office as premier on March 31.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has said there is no reason to negotiate if Netanyahu doesn’t support a “two-state solution.”
Netanyahu’s office said Sunday’s conversation was initiated by Abbas, who called the Israeli leader to send him greetings for the Jewish Passover holiday. It added that Abbas said both sides must work for peace.
Describing the conversation as “warm and friendly,” Netanyahu’s office said the Israeli leader recalled past talks and cooperation with Abbas and said he intended to maintain a similar relationship in the future. Netanyahu was also prime minister from 1996-99 and served as foreign minister from 2002-2003.
Abbas’ office said Sunday’s call was a gesture of courtesy to the new Israeli prime minister and it lasted a few minutes. It said it was the first time the two men have spoken since Netanyahu took office.
During his campaign, Netanyahu said it was premature to talk of an independent Palestinian state. Instead, he offered the Palestinians “economic peace,” a plan to build up their economy.
Netanyahu’s foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman, has dismissed peace efforts by the previous U.S. administration and says the previous Israeli government’s endorsement of Palestinian statehood is not binding.
Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said Saturday that for peace talks to resume, Israel must declare its support for the eventual establishment of a Palestinian state.
Palestinian Foreign Minister Riad Malki said Abbas is expected to visit Washington at the end of the month to discuss the stalled peace talks with President Barack Obama. This would be the first meeting between the two leaders since Obama’s inauguration.
Abbas’ office said he was flying to Saudi Arabia Sunday for a brief meeting with Saudi King Abdullah, but officials would not divulge the subject of the talks.
Obama’s Middle East envoy, George Mitchell, is to travel to the region starting Monday with stops in Israel, the Palestinian territories, Egypt and other countries.