JERUSALEM, Israel - Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu continued his call for face-to-face negotiations with the Palestinian Authority.
Speaking to Jewish leaders in New York on Wednesday, Netanyahu called on PA President Mahmoud Abbas to meet with him "in the coming days…to fashion a final peace between Israel and its Palestinian neighbors."
"My idea of peace is that we live next to one another and we talk to each other to achieve peace, the sooner the better. Direct negotiations must start right away," he said.
Netanyahu said Israel must stay focused on three crucial issues facing the Jewish state: preventing a nuclear-armed Iran; entering direct negotiations with the Palestinian Authority to achieve peaceful co-existence; and uniting against all forces that seek to deny Israel the right to self-defense.
"Security makes peace possible and makes a realistic peace take hold and endure," he said.
While admitting talks would be "very, very tough," the prime minister said direct talks are the only way to push the peace process forward.
Later, in an interview with CBS anchor Katie Couric, Netanyahu chided her probe for something "disappointing" in the White House meeting.
"You know, you remind me of the Israeli press," he said. "They say, 'How come you had a good meeting with President Obama?' Well…because I did. Because we, we actually see eye to eye on some central issues: the quest for peace; the danger of Iran; the need to bolster security for Israel and for the region. That's the truth. We do see it. Have we had differences? Of course we have," he said.
Meanwhile, chief Palestinian Authority negotiator Saeb Erekat told the Voice of Palestine Radio on Wednesday that the PA is "sincerely interested in starting direct negotiations, but Netanyahu keeps closing the door in front of us."
"Netanyahu must decide if he wants peace or settlements. He can't have both," Erekat said.
The PA is demanding that Netanyahu agree to extend the 10-month building moratorium in Judea and Samaria, which ends on September 26. But none of Israel's confidence-building measures meant to coax the Palestinian Authority to resume talks with Israel has yielded any results.
To further complicate the quest for peace, the rift between the PA's Fatah party and Hamas, the Palestinian faction controlling the Gaza Strip, is far from resolved.
Without reconciliation, it would be impossible for PA President Mahmoud Abbas to sign any agreement with Israel without being accused of driving a wedge between the West Bank and Gaza.
In an interview with the Arabic daily Asharq al-Awsat on Thursday, senior Hamas leader Mahmoud al-Zahar said "there are several obstacles to national reconciliation."
"Unfortunately in the current circumstances, the division will continue not just because of the Arab position and the Palestinian positions, but more as a result of the pressure being exerted by Israel and the U.S.," al-Zahar said.
In many ways, the PA is stuck between a rock and a hard place, which may have a lot to do with their refusal to restart direct talks with Israel.