Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's scheduled meeting with US Mideast envoy George Mitchell has been postponed at least until the end of the month.
Another meeting between the two, which was set to take place in Paris last month, was also cancelled.
Mitchell was originally scheduled to arrive in Israel on Sunday and later hold meetings with senior Palestinian officials in Ramallah. Jerusalem did not state the official reason for the delay, but some officials suspect it relates to the fact that the Netanyahu and Obama administrations have yet to resolve their differences on the issue of settlement expansion in the West Bank, among other things.
Israel cancelled a previously scheduled meeting between Netanyahu and Mitchell for fear of another confrontation with its strongest ally. The two were set to meet in Paris to discuss Washington's demand that Israel freeze all settlement construction and dismantle the illegal outposts in the West Bank. Instead, Netanyahu sent Defense Minister Ehud Barak to New York and later to London in early July to meet with Mitchell for a second time.
A senior cabinet member said at the time that "Barak returned with nothing from his talks with Mitchell; it appears that he offered the dismantling of illegal West Bank outposts in exchange for nothing."
The minister, who asked to remain nameless, was also quoted by his associates as saying, "The inclusion of Syria and Lebanon in the statement on a comprehensive peace agreement that followed the (Barak-Mitchell) meeting is a huge flop."
During their meeting in London, Barak told the US envoy that "Israel is committed to evacuating the 23 illegal outposts within weeks or months, not years."
Members of the Opposition mentioned the lack of a clear Israeli plan for the removal of the illegal outposts and a halt to all settlement construction as a possible reason for the cancellation of Netanyahu's meeting with Mitchell, but government officials familiar with the talks said the delay was not related to the dispute.
"To the best of my knowledge, the delay has nothing to do with (Israel's approach) to the Palestinian and Syrian issues," said a top official. "The meeting was postponed because we still had to approve the budget, while the Americans have yet to formulate a strategy on the aforementioned issues."
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas is expected to declare his willingness to meet with Netanyahu after the Fatah congress convenes in early August. It is estimated that Mitchell and the Israeli PM will eventually meet at the end of July, but an official date has not been set.