Credibility crisis? Not if you ask the Israelis. A senior source close to the prime minister told Ynet on Thursday night after Benjamin Netanyahu's
return from tense talks
with US President Barack Obama that "we don't think there is a crisis and rift between us and the United States. Netanyahu has faith in Obama, and we have no reason to believe that it's different on the other side."
The government's seven senior ministers are expected to convene Friday to start working on an Israeli response to the American demands.
The US president's attitude towards Netanyahu was compared by American newspapers to the treatment of "dictators" – a meeting without any media coverage, but according to the senior source, "The media descriptions about an atmosphere of crisis are exaggerated. Within 48 hours Netanyahu met with President Obama for almost two hours. He had long meetings with Vice President Joe Biden and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and received a great amount of support in his meetings at the Congress."
"It's true that there are disagreements on some of the issues, but that was the exact objective of the prime minister's meetings – to reach understandings on the peace process with Israel's
most important ally in the world, and naturally to advance talks with our American friends on ways to handle the Iranian issue," the official said.
Netanyahu and Barak leave White House. Responsible adult (Photo: AFP)
Netanyahu is scheduled to meet with his seven senior ministers at 1 pm Friday, but they are not expected to decide on the six main points of disagreement with the Americans. Obama demanded answers from Israel, but did not set a deadline.
Although the efforts by US officials George Mitchell and Dennis Ross and Israeli officials Yitzhak Molcho and Ron Dermer to reach an agreement to reach an agreement failed Wednesday, state officials believe that the response will not be immediate and will not be in writing.
The top ministers' forum is expected to hold additional meetings before the holiday, and most likely during the intermediate days of Passover as well. Israel hopes that the "proximity talks" with the Palestinians will be launched after these meetings.
The main bone of contention is the construction in Jerusalem, which is followed by the demand for a complete freeze in settlement building in the West Bank even after September, the date set by the cabinet. Additional points of dispute include:
- Humanitarian relief in Gaza
- Transferring territories to Palestinian security control, which according to PA sources include Abu-Dis.
- A generous prisoner release gesture aimed at bolstering Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas,
which will include some 2,000 prisoners – according to the Palestinians.
- Discussing all the core issues of the conflict in the indirect negotiations.
Netanyahu found it difficult to make decisions on these issues in Washington, explaining that "I have partners in the coalition and I must listen to their stand." A second argument, which was not voice loudly to the Americans, is that the negotiations are being held in practice with the US, instead of with the Palestinians.
"Moreover," said a source in the Israeli delegation after returning from Washington, "these are not negotiations for an agreement – but for launching indirect talks. Anything we don't agree on with the Americans will be an opening point for negotiations with the Palestinians, in indirect talks.
"What will be the prices when we reach the direct talks? Will a right-wing government, which was elected democratically on the backdrop of a completely different perception, be able to meet this price? This is why it is so important to reach an agreement between the members of the seven ministers' forum. This is why a clear decision will likely be needed on each and every issue in the cabinet."
Netanyahu will ask his six ministers – and particularly the four rightist hawks (Avigdor Lieberman,
Eli Yishai, Moshe Yaalon and Benny Begin) to look into each demand in a bid to prove Israel's willingness, without crossing the red lines.
Defense Minister Ehud Barak,
who was perceived during the recent trip as the responsible adult, accepted by both sides, remains optimistic. He believes that it is possible to bridge the gaps created following Obama's demands, launch the talks and even reach an agreement.
"My impression," said an official involved in the talks held in Washington this week, "is that the US does not want to stop playing by the rules with Israel. This is not their interest. What can they gain from this? They want an accomplishment, with which they'll be able to come to the Arab League, to the international community, to the Palestinians.
"The president wants an achievement on the backdrop of all the difficulties in his foreign policy – from Afghanistan, through Iraq, to the sanctions against Iran.
The Americans are basically telling us this week, 'Let us reach this achievement, so that it will serve you too. This way we can also strengthen the trust between Washington and Jerusalem.'"
Source in Washington also stressed the need for an "accomplishment" on Thursday. The American administration was surprised twice by approvals of Israeli building plans on the verge of a declaration of negotiations, enraging Obama – who responded as he did. The response was so strong, that an Israeli source said Netanyahu "did not understand what Obama wanted from him".
Yitzhak Benhorin in Washington contributed to this report