NEW YORK (Reuters) - Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu signaled on Thursday he would not extend beyond September a 10-month moratorium on new housing starts in Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank.
“I think we’ve done enough. Let’s get on with the talks,” he said, when asked in an appearance at the Council on Foreign Relations whether he would extend the limited freeze he put in place to coax the Palestinians into peace negotiations.
At the forum, Netanyahu repeated a call to the Palestinians to move from indirect talks that began in May under U.S. mediation to face-to-face negotiations on statehood.
But he gave no details of the “concrete steps” he promised, during White House talks on Tuesday, to take within weeks to encourage Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to upgrade the peace process.
“I think we should seize the moment. And it is a challenging moment and an important moment. We have the ability to negotiate a peace,” Netanyahu said at the international affairs think tank in New York.
“And I’m prepared to take risks,” Netanyahu added, while stressing that would not entail any move that could jeopardize Israel’s security.
“But we have to get on with it. We should just stop all the delays and start now, next week, in two weeks - get the talks going. Because only if we start them, we can complete them.”
Netanyahu said he intended “to confound the skeptics and critics.” But he added: “I need a partner.”
The future of settlements, he said, would be addressed in the so-called final status talks with the Palestinians. Netanyahu said in a U.S. television interview on Wednesday that Israel intended to deal with that issue “right away” once direct negotiations got under way.
Extending the limited freeze could pose significant political risks for Netanyahu, whose coalition government is dominated by pro-settler parties, including his own Likud.
Reporting by Jeffrey Heller, Editing by Doina Chiacu