NEW YORK – US President Barack Obama met Tuesday evening with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in New York for 40 minutes, ahead of their three-way summit with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, which will be held later on at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel. Netanyahu told Obama that Israel seeks to cooperate with the United States in order to promote the peace process.
After his meeting with Netanyahu, Obama met with the Palestinian president. Several hours after the summit, Netanyahu is scheduled to also meet with French President Nicolas Sarkozy.
The Netanyahu-Obama meeting was slightly delayed to the terror alert in Manhattan. The prime minister defined the meeting as good. His entourage reported that the US president praised the Israeli government for its ease of restrictions on the Palestinians over the past five months, which improved their lives.
Netanyahu told Obama that Israel has made progress and made moves to promote the negotiations with US special envoy George Mitchell in order to startup the peace process.
Addressing the Goldstone Report on the Israeli operation in Gaza, Netanyahu said that "this is a test to the international community. If it wants Israel to take chances for peace, it cannot prevent Israel from defending itself."
The trilateral meeting will also be attended by Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman and Defense Minister Ehud Barak, in a demonstration of an Israeli coalitional unity in front of the Americans and the Palestinians.
The two also attended Netanyahu's meeting with Obama, alongside National Security Advisor Uzi Arad and US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
From the right: Clinton, Obama, Netanyahu, Barak, Lieberman and Arad (Photo: Avi Ohayon, GPO)
On Monday, the prime minister summoned the two ministers to his hotel room after landing in New York. The three met until 1 am in order to decide on the positions Israel would present during the meetings. It appears that at this stage Israel will not suggest any additional compromises on the settlement construction issue, and will not commit to halting construction in Jerusalem.
Barak is serving as a "left-wing weight" for Netanyahu in his New York meetings. He supports the Arab peace plan and President Obama's initiative. During Monday's meeting, Barak pushed for an Israeli moderation at the summit in order to prove to the international community that Israel is determined to continue the peace process and that the Palestinian side must join in.
Lieberman, on the other hand, serves as a "right-wing weight", skeptical over the Palestinian side's desire or ability to make any progress in the peace process. Lieberman is demanding not to hurt the settlers, particularly while the Palestinians are incapable of "delivering the goods."
Freeze? No more than 9 months
Netanyahu will arrive to the meeting with Obama and Abbas mainly in order to brief them on recent developments. The prime minister believes that in the current state of affairs, there is no guarantee that real negotiations could be launched with the Palestinians, and he is therefore holding on to tough stances in terms of the settlement freeze.
First Netanyahu, then Abbas (Photo: Avi Ohayon, GPO)
One of Netanyahu's demands is that Israel will not commit to freeze the construction of settlements for a period of more than nine months, while the Americans are demanding a year-long freeze and the Palestinians are demanding no time limit.
As part of the temporary freeze Netanyahu is willing to commit to, he will continue to oppose a halt to the construction used for the settlers' ongoing existence needs, in the large settlement blocs and in east Jerusalem.
The prime minister is expected to brief Obama and Abbas on the moves taken by his government since its establishment, including the steps towards "economic peace," the removal of roadblocks and the ease of other restrictions on the Palestinians, and his Bar-Ilan speech, in which he declared his willingness to build a demilitarized Palestinian state as long as it recognizes Israel as the Jewish people's nation state.