Spanish PM floats peace conference idea in meeting with Israel’s Netanyahu

MADRID (Reuters) – Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez proposed an international peace conference on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to forge a viable Palestinian state in a meeting on Thursday with Israeli counterpart Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem.

Prospects for reviving peace talks frozen since the last U.S.-brokered round collapsed in 2014 have dimmed further with war raging between Israel and Gaza’s ruling Palestinian Islamist group Hamas for almost seven weeks.

Sanchez also met Israeli President Isaac Herzog and was set for talks with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah in the Israeli-occupied West Bank later on Thursday before travelling on to Egypt.

“Today, more than ever, we need to bring back a serious and credible prospect for peace,” Sanchez said after talks with Netanyahu. “Without a political settlement, we are bound to run again into a never-ending cycle of violence.”

Sanchez said he and unspecified colleagues had proposed holding an international peace conference with the parties as soon as possible. He said the European Union, Arab League and the Organisation for Islamic Cooperation had endorsed the idea.

“It is in Israel’s interest to work for peace, and today, peace means the establishment of a viable Palestinian state that includes the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem, according to the U.N. resolutions,” he said.

U.S. officials have said the time is not right to try to resume peace talks given the protracted intransigence of both sides.

Sanchez attended the meetings alongside his Belgian counterpart, Alexander De Croo, whose countries hold the current and upcoming rotating presidencies of the Council of the EU, respectively.

De Croo told reporters that both Israel and the Palestinians would need to show “political courage” to achieve peace.

Last week, Sanchez said a Union for the Mediterranean summit in Barcelona on Nov. 27-28 would be an “ideal place” to relaunch Israeli-Palestinian dialogue as the two sides would “sit on an equal footing” there.

Both Israel and the Palestinian Authority (PA), the self-rule body set up under interim peace accords in the 1990s, are members of the Mediterranean grouping along with neighbours Jordan, Lebanon, Egypt and Syria.

In 1991, Madrid hosted a multilateral peace conference aimed at resolving the conflict through negotiations based on a “land for peace” formula, eventually leading to the 1993 Oslo interim accords that set up the PA.

But a series of follow-up negotiations aimed at creating a Palestinian state in territories Israel captured in the 1967 Middle East war foundered on intractable differences over borders, Palestinian refugees, Israel’s steady expansion of settlements on occupied land, and the status of Jerusalem.

(Reporting by David Latona and Belén Carreño in Madrid; additional reporting by Marine Strauss in Brussels; editing by Aislinn Laing and Mark Heinrich)