Kerry Pushes Return to Mideast Negotiations

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JERUSALEM, Israel -- The Obama administration is leading the way with efforts to restart the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says.

"We're engaged right now in an effort that we appreciate led by President Obama and Secretary Kerry to restart the peace negotiations between us and the Palestinians," Netanyahu said this week.

Although there's been talk of such a move for years, Netanyahu told a delegation of U.S. congressman earlier this week the crux of the problem is the P.A.'s refusal to recognize Israel as the Jewish nation-state.

"We're eager to do it," Netanyahu told the delegation, led by Rep. Ed Royce, R-Calif. "We have no preconditions and we think there shouldn't be any preconditions to restart negotiations. We do think that to finish the negotiations, we need two basic pillars: one is that the Palestinians recognize the Jewish state and second that Israel has solid security arrangements. We're prepared to discuss many things, but I will never compromise on Israel's security," he said.

Netanyahu also said any peace agreement with the P.A. must be approved in a national referendum, a move opposed by Justice Minister Tzipi Livni.

Livni led secret negotiations with the Palestinian Authority in former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's government, saying at the time the public didn't need to be informed of discussions behind closed doors.

Meanwhile in Washington Thursday, Livni, accompanied by Netanyahu's chief negotiator Yitzhak Molcho, met with Secretary of State John Kerry, fresh from meetings with the Arab League on restarting Israeli-Palestinian negotiations.

Kerry applauded the Arab League's willingness to modify the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative with "minor border modifications," as did Livni, calling it an "important" concession.

Whatever Israel's response might be, P.A. chief negotiator Saeb Erekat dismissed the offer as nothing new, accusing Israel of "further colonization and attacks against Palestinian rights and regional stability."

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