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Italy’s Berlusconi opposes Palestinian state bid as Israel’s Netanyahu visits

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Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi of Italy on Monday declared his opposition to a Palestinian bid for UN membership, earning thanks from his visiting Israeli counterpart, Benjamin Netanyahu.

“We do not believe that a unilateral solution can help peace, neither on the Palestinian side nor on the Israeli side. I believe peace can only be reached with a common initiative through negotiations,” Mr. Berlusconi told reporters.

Following talks with Mr. Netanyahu in Rome, the Italian leader also offered Erice, a town in Sicily, as a possible location for peace talks.

“I want to thank you for your clear position against the attempt to bypass peace negotiations. Peace will only come through negotiations,” Mr. Netanyahu said.

“A UN fiat that is one-sided would ... violate agreements between the Palestinians and Israel,” he said.

“Such a resolution if backed by an overwhelming majority could actually push peace back by hardening Palestinian positions,” Mr. Netanyahu said.

The two leaders also discussed Iran’s nuclear program and the uprisings in the Middle East and North Africa.

“There is today a great battle in the Middle East and North Africa between medievalism and modernity. It’s not clear how this contest will be decided,” Mr. Netanyahu said.

“It’s not obvious where the Arab Spring will go. If Iran develops nuclear weapons, the Arab Spring could well turn into an Iranian Winter, it will tilt the tide everywhere,” he said.

The main thrust of the visit was Mr. Netanyahu’s efforts to get world leaders to oppose the Palestinian plan to seek UN recognition and membership in September.

Italy is one of Israel’s closest friends in Europe, and last month Mr. Berlusconi said Italy would only recognize a Palestinian unity government that renounces terrorism and recognizes Israel’s right to exist.

Frustrated after two decades of off-and-on peace negotiations, the Palestinians have said they would seek recognition for a Palestinian state at the United Nations in September, when the General Assembly starts its annual session.

(Sara Ghasemilee, a senior editor with Al Arabiya, can be reached at sara.ghasemilee@mbc.net)