The preoccupation with the issue of the settlements is a 'waste of time' and hinders progress towards peace, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Tuesday.
Netanyahu arrived in Italy on Tuesday on his first trip to Europe since being elected, visiting Rome and Paris to sound out regional allies about his qualified endorsement of a Palestinian state.
The PM first met with Premier Silvio Berlusconi, whom he described in a RAI state television interview Monday as "a great friend of Israel, committed to promoting peace and security." In press conference following the meeting, the Italian leader urged Israel to halt settlement construction.
Earlier, Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini, who attended the meeting, said Italy would ask Netanyahu to quickly open talks with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. He said Italy would also appreciate the "gesture" of a moratorium on expanding existing settlements, the Apcom news agency reported.
However, in a television interview, Netanyahu declared that the intensive preoccupation with the settlements is a "waste of time." The PM said the settlement issue was not the central question in respect to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and that arguments over the issue will delay progress towards peace.
Bibi to meet Obama in Paris
Less than two weeks after Netanyahu gave qualified endorsement to the concept of a Palestinian state, Netanyahu will likely be sounding out Berlusconi and French President Nicolas Sarkozy to see if they are on board with the caveats he placed on such a state. These include the demand that it be demilitarized and recognize Israel as a "Jewish state."
In his June 14 speech Netanyahu also said the Palestinians must give up any notion of refugees who left what is now Israel - or their millions of descendants - resettling in their former homes.
He will be meeting Thursday in Paris with US President Barack Obama's special Middle East peace envoy, former Sen. George Mitchell.