WASHINGTON – Aides to Benjamin Netanyahu met
with American officials at the Mayflower Hotel for several hours overnight Thursday (Israeli time) in an effort to resolve the disagreements that had resurfaced during the Israeli prime minister's meeting with President Barack Obama and agree on trust-building Israeli measures that would advance the so-called "proximity talks" with the Palestinians.
Netanyahu, who is due to return to Israel on Thursday, fears that far-reaching Israeli concessions may turn his right-wing coalition partners against him, and therefore plans on seeking the approval of cabinet or the forum of seven ministers on any and all understandings reached with the Americans.
Adding to the tension was the White House's announcement
that it was seeking clarifications regarding Israel's plans to build 20 new apartments in east Jerusalem. The construction plan in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood was first reported by Ynet on Tuesday evening.
The American officials who took part in the talks included Mideast envoy George Mitchell, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's advisor Dennis Ross and National Security Council Senior Director for the Middle East Dan Shapiro.
Netanyahu was represented by advisers Yitzhak Molcho and Ron Dermer, as well as by Ambassador to Washington Michael Oren.
The Americans demanded to hear a clear Israeli position regarding the West Bank construction moratorium, Jewish construction in east Jerusalem and the possibility of discussing the core issues during proximity talks with the Palestinians.
The US officials hoped to publish a joint document that would summarize the understandings reached during the talks in Washington, but Netanyahu prefers to update the forum of seven on the agreements first. The document was also supposed to specify Israel's commitments vis-à-vis the peace process.
Before boarding a plane back to Israel early Thursday, Netanyahu said, "We are trying to find the golden path between our will to advance the peace process along with the United States, and between maintaining the standard policy of all Israeli governments," said Netanyahu.
While the Israeli delegation defined Netanyahu's meetings with Obama as "good," one aide said, "The situation is not simple. There are some major disputes – we hope to find a formula that will help resolve them."
Meanwhile, Washington Post columnist Jackson Diehl wrote that "Obama has added more poison to a US-Israeli relationship that already was at its lowest point in two decades."
Addressing the White House's refusal to allow non-official photographers record the president's meeting with Netanyahu, Diehl said the Israeli leader is being treated "as if he were an unsavory Third World dictator, needed for strategic reasons but conspicuously held at arms length.
"That is something the rest of the world will be quick to notice and respond to. Just like the Palestinians, European governments cannot be more friendly to an Israeli leader than the United States. Would Britain have expelled a senior Israeli diplomat Tuesday because of a flap over forged passports if there were no daylight between Obama and Netanyahu? Maybe not," he wrote.
Roni Sofer contributed to the report