- Associated Press - Sunday, January 2, 2011

JERUSALEM (AP) — Israel’s prime minister said Sunday that he’s ready to sit down with the Palestinian president for continuous one-on-one talks until they reach a peace deal.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu issued his statement in an apparent bid to breathe life into stalled Mideast peacemaking.

Talks broke down in late September, just three weeks after they were launched at the White House, following the expiration of a limited Israeli freeze on settlement construction.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has said Israel must halt all settlement construction on occupied lands claimed by the Palestinians before talks can resume.

Mr. Netanyahu has refused but said he is ready to discuss all “core” issues with Mr. Abbas. Those include setting the final borders between Israel and a future Palestine, determining the fate of millions of Palestinian refugees and resolving the competing claims to the holy city of Jerusalem.

Over the weekend Mr. Abbas said he believed a peace deal could be reached within two months if Mr. Netanyahu showed “good will.”

He suggested that Mr. Netanyahu adopt the positions of his more dovish predecessor, Ehud Olmert.

“We were close to an agreement,” Mr. Abbas said. “The Palestinian position is clear to the Israelis, and the Israeli position presented by Olmert is clear to us.”

Mr. Olmert has said he offered the Palestinians virtually all of the West Bank and parts of east Jerusalem — captured areas claimed by the Palestinians for their state — before negotiations broke down in late 2008.

Mr. Netanyahu, who leads a more hard-line coalition government, has given little indication that he is prepared to make similar concessions.

But in response to Mr. Abbas‘ comments, Mr. Netanyahu said he “is ready to immediately sit down with Abu Mazen for continuous direct, one-on-one, negotiations until white smoke wafts” — an allusion to the Vatican’s custom when Roman Catholic Church officials choose a new pope.

“If Abu Mazen agrees to my proposal — that of directly discussing all the core issues — we will know very quickly if we can reach an agreement,” he said.