Page last updated at 17:01 GMT, Wednesday, 20 May 2009 18:01 UK

Israel PM Netanyahu 'ready for peace talks'

Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu
Mr Netanyahu has consistently refused to back the idea of a Palestinian state

Israel is ready "to immediately begin" peace talks with the Palestinians and Syria, PM Benjamin Netanyahu has said after returning from the US.

But he insisted that any peace settlement "must find a solution to Israel's security needs".

Arab states should join talks, he said, but would need to make concessions as well as Israel and the Palestinians.

At the talks on Monday, Mr Netanyahu was pressed by President Barack Obama over US plans on a two-state solution.

But the Israeli leader - who also came under pressure to rein in Israeli settlement-building - refrained from endorsing the idea.

Instead he said Israel was ready to live "side by side" with the Palestinians.


Views from Jerusalem on Benjamin Netanyahu's visit to the US

Speaking after touching down at Tel Aviv's Ben-Gurion airport, Mr Netanyahu offered an upbeat assessment of his visit to the US.

"There was an agreement that we need to immediately begin the peace process," he said.

"I said I am willing to open peace talks with the Palestinians - [and] by the way with the Syrians as well - of course without preconditions," he said.

"We also agreed on the need to expand the peace process to Arab states."

On-off negotiations with Syria over the Golan Heights, occupied by Israel since 1967, ended before this year's Israeli election, while Israel only has diplomatic relations with two Arab nations, Egypt and Jordan.

Arab recognition of Israel was one element of a recently-revived Saudi peace plan first drafted in 2002.

Focus by the media on the concept of solving the Israel-Palestinian issue through a two-state solution is childish and stupid
Ron Dermer
Aide to Israeli PM

However, Mr Netanyahu was clear that Arab states would need to come to the negotiating table prepared to barter.

"Israel is interested in widening the circle of peace, and in bringing in other Arab states, [but] the Arab states must also make concessions in the process," Israel's Haaretz newspaper reported him as saying.

Mr Netanyahu did not specify.

Earlier, a senior adviser to the prime minister, Ron Dermer, told the Associated Press news agency that the constant focus on a two-state solution was "childish and stupid".

Mr Dermer denied that he meant to deride the two-state proposal itself.

"I told reporters that the focus by the media on the concept of solving the Israel-Palestinian issue through a two-state solution is childish and stupid, but I deny that I described the idea that way," he said.

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