Middle East

Israel's Netanyahu asks Palestinian president to address parliament

Benjamin Netanyahu at United Nations (22/09/16) Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Mr Netanyahu said peace could only be achieved through direct negotiations

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has invited Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas to address Israel's parliament.

Mr Netanyahu said that in exchange he would gladly accept any invitation to speak to the Palestinian parliament.

He made the comments at the UN General Assembly, calling on Mr Abbas to work for peace, instead of "stoking hatred".

Mr Abbas earlier called on the UN to declare 2017 as the year in which "Israel's occupation" came to an end.

"In June 2017 half a century of this abhorrent Israeli occupation will have passed." Mr Abbas said.

He urged the UN to "enhance Palestinian legal and political status" as it pushed for "full membership in international organisations".

At the UN, the Palestinians are represented as Palestine, which has observer, rather than full-member, status.

Mr Netanyahu spoke shortly after Mr Abbas at the UN.

"Wouldn't it be better if, instead of speaking past each other, we were speaking to each other, we were speaking to one another," he said.

"President Abbas, instead of railing against Israel at the United Nations in New York I invite you to speak to the Israeli people at the Knesset in Jerusalem and I will gladly come to speak to the Palestinian parliament in Ramallah."

"I am ready to negotiate all final status, but one thing I will never negotiate is the right to a one and only Jewish state," he added, pointing out that the recent turmoil in the Middle East could lead to better relations between Israel's neighbours.

Image copyright AP
Image caption Mr Abbas said the Israeli prime minister had "chosen occupation over peace"

The Palestinians have turned down Mr Netanyahu's previous bids to hold meetings, arguing that such get-togethers will not make any progress without a complete freeze to Israeli settlement-building in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, occupied by Israel since the 1967 Middle East war.

The Palestinians seek an independent state in the West Bank and Gaza, with East Jerusalem as its capital.

While Mr Abbas castigated "Jewish settlement expansion", Mr Netanyahu said the issue of settlements was a pretext.

"It's always been about the existence of a Jewish state, a Jewish state in any boundary," he said.