Israeli PM urged to seek peace deal

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David Cameron will today urge Israel's Prime Minister to press ahead with efforts to find a resolution to conflict in the Middle East.

Benjamin Netanyahu is visiting 10 Downing Street for talks and a working dinner this evening, as Palestinian groups Fatah and Hamas met in Cairo to endorse a unity deal.

Mr Cameron yesterday told MPs that progress in the Middle East peace process must be a priority in the wake of the killing of al Qaida terror mastermind Osama bin Laden.

While the international community should continue its efforts to "degrade, dismantle and defeat" terrorist networks, a big part of the long-term answer to Islamist militancy is "the success of democracy in the Middle East and the conclusion of the Arab-Israeli peace process", he said.

Israel has denounced the plan for Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas's Fatah movement to end a four-year rift and join forces with Islamist rivals Hamas, which Mr Netanyahu's government regards as a terrorist organisation.

The Quartet of Middle East mediators - the US, the EU, the United Nations and Russia - has long demanded that Hamas renounce violence and recognise the principle of Israel's right to exist.

It was unclear today whether Israel, the US or EU would recognise whatever government emerges from the Cairo deal.

Ismail Haniyeh, prime minister of the Hamas government which rules the Gaza Strip, angered many in the West on Monday by condemning the US operation against bin Laden and describing the al Qaida leader as a "Muslim and Arab warrior".

Speaking ahead of today's talks at Number 10, a Downing Street spokeswoman said: "The Prime Minister made it clear in the House yesterday, this is a time to pursue not ignore the Middle East peace process.

"That will be his main message to Mr Netanyahu today."

The Quartet's peace envoy in the Middle East, former prime minister Tony Blair, said it was not yet clear whether the Palestinian government of national unity expected to emerge from the Cairo agreement would help the peace process.

Mr Blair told BBC Radio 4's World At One: "The principles of the international community are very, very clear. We will only get peace if there is an acceptance that there has to be two states - a state of Israel and a state of Palestine - and if everybody accepts that you pursue your objectives by exclusively peaceful means.

"We don't yet know the composition of the new government, who the prime minister is, what principles it will abide by.

"The issue is, will it be consistent with those basic principles of the international community? We are in favour of unity but it has got to be unity on terms that promote peace."

Mr Blair added: "If you are an Israeli and you have seen Hamas try to kill innocent civilians by terrorism in Israel, you are going to look at this deal and say 'Has President Abbas brought into Palestinian politics under the guise of unity a force that is seeking Israel's destruction?'

"On the other hand, what President Abbas says is 'Actually, I can make this work and I can bring Hamas on to my ground'. The question is, is that right, can it really be done and will this be a government which genuinely promotes peace?"

Responding to the Fatah/Hamas deal, a Downing Street spokeswoman said: "We need to study the detail of the agreement but, as the Prime Minister was making clear in the House of Commons yesterday, we hope that Palestinian unity between Fatah and Hamas will be a step forward.

"Clearly we will judge any Palestinian government on its actions. We want the Palestinian government that emerges to reject violence and engage in a meaningful peace process."

Mr Netanyahu is touring western capitals including Paris and Washington to spell out Israel's concerns over recent developments in the Middle East.

Jerusalem is worried that the upcoming elections in Egypt may put the Muslim Brotherhood in control of the Arab world's most populous state, putting in doubt the 1979 peace treaty which has been a foundation-stone of Israel's security arrangements over three decades.

And Mr Netanyahu left no doubt about his anxiety about the inclusion of Hamas in any Palestinian government, telling reporters in London: "What happened today in Cairo is a tremendous blow to peace and a great victory for terrorism."

Meanwhile, Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal said he was ready to work with President Abbas and Egypt on a new strategy to solve the Arab-Israeli conflict.

"We don't want to declare war on anyone," said Mr Meshaal.

"We want to wrench our rights and draft a new strategy for ourselves, to master all forms of power that will force Netanyahu to withdraw from our lands and to recognise our rights. We are telling the world: stand with us."

While acknowledging Israeli unease, London regards the current period as a decisive moment in the search for peace in the Middle East.

In a speech on the implications of the "Arab spring" which he gave in Kuwait in February, Mr Cameron identified progress in the peace process as vital for prosperity and development across the region.

He is expected this evening to assure Mr Netanyahu of Britain's continued support for Israel and its security needs and readiness to cooperate closely on issues like Iran, terrorism and wider security threats.

But it is thought that he will urge the Israeli leader to view the wave of pro-democracy movements in the Arab world as an opportunity rather than a threat, and to recognise that his country's security will best be served by a negotiated settlement with the Palestinians.

His message is understood to be that Mr Netanyahu should prove doubters wrong by engaging in serious peace talks on the basis of the 1967 borders and taking action to prevent illegal settlement construction in the occupied territories.