JERUSALEM — Israel’s prime minister said Sunday that he’s ready to sit down with the Palestinian president for continuous one-on-one talks until they reach a peace deal.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu issued his statement on Sunday in an apparent bid to breathe life into stalled Mideast peace making.
Talks broke down in late September, just three weeks after they were launched at the White House, following the expiration of a limited Israeli freeze on settlement construction.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas says Israel must halt all settlement construction on occupied lands claimed by the Palestinians before talks can resume.
Netanyahu has refused, but says he is ready to discuss all “core” issues with Abbas. Those include setting the final borders between Israel and a future Palestine, determining the fate of millions of Palestinian refugees and resolving the competing claims to the holy city of Jerusalem.
Over the weekend Abbas said he believed a peace deal could be reached within two months if Netanyahu showed “good will.”
He suggested that Netanyahu adopt the positions of his more dovish predecessor, Ehud Olmert.
“We were close to an agreement,” Abbas said. “The Palestinian position is clear to the Israelis and the Israeli position presented by Olmert is clear to us.”
Olmert has said he offered the Palestinians virtually all of the West Bank and parts of east Jerusalem — captured areas claimed by the Palestinians for their state — before negotiations broke down in late 2008.
Netanyahu, who leads a more hardline coalition government, has given little indication that he is prepared to make similar concessions.
But in response to Abbas’ comments, Netanyahu said “he is ready to immediately sit down with Abu Mazen for continuous direct, one on one, negotiations until white smoke wafts” — an allusion to the Roman Catholic Church’s method of signalling the choice of a new pope.
“If Abu Mazen agrees to my proposal that of directly discussing all the core issues, we will know very quickly if we can reach an agreement,” he said.
Also Sunday, the Israeli military said it was investigating the death of a Palestinian woman overcome by tear gas fired by soldiers at a West Bank protest.
Contradictory accounts were given of the circumstances surrounding the death Saturday of the 36-year-old protester, Jawaher Abu Rahmeh, a day after she inhaled the gas at the weekly demonstration against Israel’s West Bank separation barrier in the village of Bilin.
Tear gas is meant to be a non-lethal crowd control method and is used routinely by Israeli troops at protests. But doctors say the gas can kill on rare occasions if a victim has a pre-existing condition.
Mohammed Abu Rahmeh, a relative of the woman, said she had suffered from asthma since she was a child. Rateb Abu Rahmeh, a doctor and a spokesman for the Bilin protesters, said she had a “weak immune system.” Her parents said she was healthy and did not have asthma.
Dr. Mohammed Eideh, who treated Abu Rahmeh in the Palestinian city of Ramallah, said she died of “respiratory failure and then cardiac arrest” caused by tear gas inhalation. He said he did not know if she had a pre-existing condition.
Another doctor said she was initially released from hospital, later collapsed, was readmitted and then died. Eideh said she had not been released.
Israel began building the separation barrier in 2002 during a wave of suicide attacks carried out by Palestinians who crossed into Israel from the West Bank. But Palestinians call it a land grab because the barrier takes up some land in the West Bank rather than in Israel proper.