Dina Kraft
The New York Times
July 2, 2010 - 12:00am

TEL AVIV — The Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, made a rare effort to reach out directly to the Israeli public, calling on Israel’s leadership to step up peace efforts while suggesting that his people were growing weary waiting for a state.

“We want to live in peace. Don’t kill the hope,” Mr. Abbas said in comments published Thursday after a group interview with six correspondents from Israel’s leading newspapers.

Over dinner in his Ramallah headquarters on Wednesday, Mr. Abbas told the correspondents that the Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, was not moving quickly enough in the indirect negotiations being brokered by George J. Mitchell, the Obama administration’s special representative to the Middle East.

Specifically, Mr. Abbas said, the Palestinians wanted to see progress on the issues of borders and security before moving to direct negotiations.

Mr. Netanyahu, meanwhile, said Wednesday in comments during a meeting with Mr. Mitchell in Jerusalem that the two sides should proceed straight to direct talks.

He called on Mr. Abbas to come to Jerusalem and said he would be willing to go to Ramallah in the West Bank.

Mr. Netanyahu is scheduled to meet President Obama next week in Washington, where he is expected to press for the start of direct talks. Such negotiations were cut off by the Palestinians after the Israeli incursion into Gaza at the end of 2008, which was part of an effort to halt rocket fire by Hamas, the militant Islamist movement, into Israeli border towns.

While Mr. Netanyahu and Mr. Abbas spoke separately of how to move forward, Avigdor Lieberman, Israel’s foreign minister, made his second comments this week that could strain peace efforts, saying Thursday in an interview with Israel Radio that he did not have faith in Mr. Abbas, also known as Abu Mazen.

“I don’t trust Abu Mazen,” Mr. Lieberman said. “I don’t believe in Abu Mazen, and I don’t think there is a partner there.”

Responding to Mr. Abbas’s calls for Israel to make more concrete moves before convening for direct talks, he said, “We don’t need to pay for the pleasure of speaking to Abu Mazen.”

Mr. Lieberman also criticized what he called various efforts by the Palestinian Authority to ostracize Israel, including a call for the boycott of Israeli products made in West Bank settlements and the pressure it had exerted unsuccessfully on member nations of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development not to vote for Israel’s inclusion in the group.

“I think we have paid enough with good-will gestures and preconditions, and we have only been spat on,” he said.

At a news conference with the Russian foreign minister, Sergey V. Lavrov, Mr. Lieberman said Tuesday that there was no chance that a Palestinian state would be established in the next two years.

Also on Thursday, Mr. Netanyahu said that Israel was prepared to release 1,000 Palestinian prisoners from Israeli jails in exchange for an Israeli soldier who has been held hostage by Hamas for four years. The number of 1,000 Palestinian prisoners had long been floating around in news reports as Hamas’s asking price for Staff Sgt. Gilad Shalit, now 23, but Mr. Netanyahu was the first to confirm the figure.

In a nationally televised address, the prime minister cautioned, however, that Israel could not afford to carry out a deal at any cost, citing Palestinians swapped in past prisoner exchange deals who returned to terrorist activities against Israel.

Israel has a history of agreeing to lopsided prisoner swaps in order to win the return of its soldiers, dead or alive, from enemies.

There is widespread support in Israel for a major prisoner exchange deal for Sergeant Shalit’s return. His family, joined by thousands of supporters, is on a march to Jerusalem from the north of the country in hopes of pressing Israeli leaders into making a deal.


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