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Middle East peace talks 'possible'

Israel's prime minister has demanded that any future Palestinian state be demilitarised and recognise Israel as the Jewish homeland, as he staked out his starting position for new Mideast peace talks.

Benjamin Netanyahu said reaching a deal will be difficult but possible. The conditions he laid down, coupled with a swift Palestinian rejection, illustrated just how difficult the task will be for the US to meet its goal of brokering peace within a year. Talks are set to begin in Washington next week.

"We want to surprise all of the critics and sceptics. But to do that we need a real partner on the Palestinian side," Netanyahu told his Cabinet . "If we discover that we have such a partner, we will be able to quickly reach a historic agreement between the two peoples."

In his first public comments since the White House announced the planned resumption of talks on Friday, Netanyahu gave the first signs of what has been an extremely vague vision for a final settlement.

He said any future Palestinian state would not be allowed to have an army, would have to recognise Israel as a Jewish state and accept other Israeli security demands, he said, without elaborating.

He did not address what are considered the conflict's thorniest issues: borders, the status of Jerusalem and the fate of the Palestinian refugees.

He will be negotiating with the Palestine Liberation Organisation, which holds sway only in the West Bank, the territory squeezed between Israel and the Jordan River. The PLO wants a state in all of the West Bank, neighbouring east Jerusalem and the seaside Gaza Strip on the other side of Israel.

Gaza is ruled by the Islamic militant group Hamas, which refuses to recognise Israel.

In the past, Netanyahu has said Israel would have to maintain a security presence along the West Bank's border with Jordan to prevent arms smuggling, and that east Jerusalem, the sector of the holy city claimed by the Palestinians as their capital, must remain under Israeli control.

His Likud party is also a champion of the four-decade-old movement to settle Jews in the West Bank, which Israel captured along with east Jerusalem and Gaza in the 1967 Mideast war, though it withdrew from Gaza in 2005.


From Belfast Telegraph