by Ron Bousso
AFP/File – Israel’s right-wing Likud party chairman Benjamin Netanyahu, seen here in November 2008, thinks Middle …
JERUSALEM (AFP) – Israel‘s right-wing Likud party chairman thinks Middle East peace talks should focus on improving Palestinian daily life and not on core issues, his spokeswoman said Thursday.
The hawkish former premier, who polls say is likely to return to power after February elections, has been a staunch critic of the US-backed peace talks with the Palestinians that were relaunched in November 2007.
“Netanyahu does not oppose the continuation of the talks but he believes that the current negotiations are leading nowhere and their goal is not clear,” spokeswoman Dina Libster told AFP.
“He wants to continue the talks on tangible issues that can be carried out on the ground, such as the Palestinian economy and Palestinian living conditions. At the moment, discussing core issues is irrelevant.”
The latest round of peace talks has shown little progress on the so-called “core issues” of the decades-old conflict, including the future status of Jerusalem, Palestinian refugees, Jewish settlements and final borders.
In a meeting on Thursday with 26 ambassadors who had requested clarification on Likud‘s electoral platform, Netanyahu said he would focus on repairing the Palestinian economy and creating a “positive atmosphere” for diplomacy.
“I believe that vigorous economic steps and a positive atmosphere that will be created on the ground will reflect on the future talks,” Libster quoted him as saying.
“Most Israelis, including myself, are not interested in ruling another people. I support them having all the prerogatives to rule themselves except for those prerogatives that threaten or damage Israel’s security.”
A close advisor to Netanyahu said a peace deal would not be possible in the near future due to “chaos on the Palestinian side.” That was a reference to strife between the moderate Fatah movement and the radical Hamas, which seized power in the Gaza Strip last year.
“It is commonly accepted that there is no possibility of reaching a permanent status agreement in the near future between Israel and the Palestinians,” Dore Gold told AFP.
“Even the policy advocated by (US Secretary of State) Condoleezza Rice of reaching a shelf agreement acknowledged this situation,” said Gold, a foreign policy advisor to Netanyahu.
Earlier this week, Likud elected a candidate list dominated by hardliners, raising fears that a victory in the February elections could derail the peace process relaunched by.
Foreign Minister , head of the centrist and Netanyahu’s chief rival, has been leading the talks with the Palestinians.
Polls released earlier this week predicted Likud would win well over 30 seats in the 120-member assembly, putting Netanyahu on track to become Israel’s next prime minister at the head of a coalition government.