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Netanyahu ready for peace talks with Abbas 'now'

Sept. 2, 2015 10:14 A.M. (Updated: Sept. 2, 2015 4:45 P.M.)
Israeli and Palestinian members of the "Women Wage Peace" group, start a fifty-day long collective fast in front of Netanyahu's residence, July 8, 2015. (AFP/Thomas Coex/File)
JERUSALEM (AFP) -- Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Tuesday he was willing to engage in immediate and direct peace talks with Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas, without preconditions.

"I am ready now to go to Ramallah or any other place in order to meet and hold direct negotiations," Netanyahu told members of Women Wage Peace, established following last summer's war between Israel and Hamas in the Gaza Strip.

"I have no preconditions for negotiations," he said in remarks relayed by his office.

Yet he said, reiterating his longstanding position: "The solution is two states for two peoples -– a demilitarized Palestinian state that recognizes the national state of the Jewish people."

The women had fasted in relays over 50 days, the length of the war, which claimed the lives of 2,251 Palestinians, including more than 500 children. Seventy-three people were killed on the Israeli side, including 67 soldiers.

"If you intend to meet with Abu Mazen, tell him that I am ready to meet if he is," Netanyahu said, using Abbas's nickname.

US-backed peace talks between the Palestinians and Israel collapsed in April 2014 after nine months of fruitless meetings.

Israel claimed the process failed because the Palestinians refused to accept a US framework document outlining the way forward, while Palestinians pointed to Israel's settlement building and the government's refusal to release veteran prisoners.

In the run-up to the Israeli elections in March Netanyahu ruled out the possibility of an independent Palestinian state.

Although he later distanced himself from the comments, a significant portion of his rightwing coalition publicly opposes a Palestinian state and promotes settlement expansion across the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem.

Netanyahu also vowed never to allow the Palestinians to establish a capital in occupied East Jerusalem and pledged to build "thousands" of settler homes in the city, which are illegal under international law.

The relationship between the two sides remains severely strained, prompting the Palestinians to step up efforts on the international stage to seek a state.

Ma'an staff contributed to this report.
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