Top ministers debate US crisis
Seven-minister forum convenes for series of meetings into the night to discuss Israeli response to demands made by Secretary of State Clinton, including halting construction in Jerusalem. PM Netanyahu to leave for Washington on Sunday; meetings with senior administration officials have yet to be scheduled
The United States expects Israel to freeze its construction in Jerusalem neighborhoods located beyond the Green Line and make a series of gestures which would allow the Israelis and Palestinians to launch indirect talks.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu convened his senior ministers for the second time on Wednesday afternoon, following a discussion on security issues in the morning. The forum was expected to convene again into the night after Netanyahu's meeting with European Union foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton.
Netanyahu is facing a series dilemma between his right-wing coalition and global pressures. The prime minister has stressed that he would not accept any compromises in terms of Jerusalem, but is trying to come up with a formula which would please the US. According to some ministers, Israel will likely not be able to build beyond the Green Line in Jerusalem, even without an official declaration.
"It would not be a wild guess to assume that the matter being discussed is the crisis with the United States," said a source at the Prime Minister's Office. Professional elements, including National Security Council and Foreign Ministry officials, took part in the discussions as well.
Netanyahu has failed to far to come up with a response to the series of demands made by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton during a firm telephone conversation between the two officials on Friday. The Americans have decided to call off the Middle East trip of special envoy George Mitchell, who was slated to launch the indirect talks between Israel and the Palestinians.
A US spokesman said Wednesday that Clinton was still waiting for a response from Netanyahu about US complaints. "We're still looking forward to a response. It hasn't happened yet. There hasn't been a call yet," Mark Toner, a State Department spokesman, told reporters after Clinton's departure for Middle East quartet talks in Moscow.
PM to meet with US officials?
According to reports in Washington, Mitchell is expected to join Clinton on her upcoming visit to Moscow for the International Quarter meeting this weekend. The talks are not expected to begin next week as well, as Netanyahu will be in Washington for a meeting of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) and is scheduled to visit Brussels on his way back.
Netanyahu and US Vice President Joe Biden spoke on the phone on Tuesday night. The recent crisis between Israel and the US broke out during Biden's visit to Israel last week. The prime minister may have asked to meet with the vice president during his visit to Washington in a bid to reconcile with the Americans.
Meetings between Netanyahu and senior US administration officials have yet to be scheduled, and Israel's response to the American demands is aimed at creating an atmosphere which would allow such meetings.
United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon will arrive in the region Friday for a visit to Israel and the Palestinian Authority. President Shimon Peres will host a dinner in honor of the UN chief of Saturday evening. The two are expected to discuss a series of issues, including ways to bring the Israelis and Palestinians back to the negotiating table, the situation in Gaza, the Iranian nuclear program and advancing peace plans between Israel and Arab countries.
AFP contributed to this report