Ma'an News Agency
February 8, 2010 - 1:00am

General (res) Danny Rothschild, chairman of the annual Herziliya conference on Israel's national security, believes more Palestinians should participate in the series.

"No doubt Palestinians can benefit from the conference. Direct talks are what we [Israelis] miss. I hope more Palestinians will participate in the future," he said in an interview with Ma'an on Sunday.

Rothschild described caretaker Prime Minister Salam Fayyad's speech as a "highlight" of the conference. "He gave a very good speech, even if it contained nothing new, the fact that it was in front of an Israeli audience was significant." The Ramallah-based prime minister had reiterated President Mahmoud Abbas' call for a settlement standstill across the West Bank and Jerusalem before peace talks could be resumed.

Fayyad shared the stage on Wednesday with Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak - a rare encounter as the peace process remains in deadlock and talks are on hold.

During his speech, Barak warned that failure to achieve peace with the Palestinians will either lead to an apartheid state or a state without a Jewish majority, widely viewed as a blunt warning embodying the stalemate reached in the peace process. However, Rothschild considered Barak's comments as usual. "He said it before, many, many times."

Rothschild said that it was "totally wrong" to assume that the conference deals solely with issues relating to Israel's security. Rather, he said, "[they] relate to internal and external issues, as well as welfare."

When asked if the Herziliya conference impacts Jews abroad as well as Israelis, Rothschild said "[it has] a very wide impact ... Overseas participants attending [this year] was unprecedented."

The Tenth Herziliya Conference was held between 31 January and 3 February and received a mixed international response. British journalist Robert Fisk, writing for the British daily The Independent, said "Israel under siege. That was the dreary, familiar, hopelessly misunderstood theme at the 10th annual Herzliya conference of diplomats, Israeli civil servants, military gold braid and government ..."

Meanwhile, Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri condemned Fayyad's participation. "The Palestinian Authority’s cooperation with Israel reached a political level and this is a serious indicator that this national side has connected its projects with Israeli interests and policies."

Rothschild remarked, however, that "this conference was one of the best ever."

Fayyad had called for the handing over of more security responsibilites during his speech, indicating that the Israeli occupation is "being rolled back on its way to ending," Reuters reported on Wednesday.

For his part, Barak said "The time has come to engage in negotiations ... I say, instead of the foreplay, instead of speculation, what is needed is to climb off the ladders and get into the negotiations room and talk about the real issues," the Agence France-Presse quoted him as saying.


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