Israel standing its ground. US administration officials met with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's aides in Jerusalem, amid American pressure on Israel for gestures and concessions to enable indirect peace talks with the Palestinians.
The Wall Street Journal on Thursday reported that Netanyahu conveyed a message to US President Barak Obama last week according to which Israel rejects the US demand for a full construction freeze in east Jerusalem. Sources from the Prime Minister's Office confirmed the report, which was based on diplomatic sources in Washington.
According to the report, American officials do not believe Netanyahu's stance is the end of negotiations. The sources said the prime minister agreed to discuss nearly a dozen other points that were raised in talks between the parties, including the release of Palestinian prisoners, a lift of the blockade on the Gaza Strip, and the removal of roadblocks in the West Bank.
Netanyahu reportedly also agreed to discuss, in detail, the issue of borders and Jerusalem's status in all direct and indirect negotiations.
On Wednesday, US National Security Council Middle East Senior Director Dan Shapiro and David Hale, a deputy of US Mideast envoy George Mitchell, met with Netanyahu's envoy on the Palestinian matter Yitzhak Molcho.
The PMO said the response conveyed to the Americans is part of a process of "ongoing dialogue aimed at promoting the peace process" and refused to comment on the content of the talks held with the Americans.
However, the sources stressed that Netanyahu's stance, as presented in an interview to ABC earlier this week, has not changed.
The prime minister declared in the interview that Israel would continue to build in east Jerusalem and said the Palestinian demand to prevent Jews from building in Jewish neighborhoods in Jerusalem is not a starting point for negotiations. He called for talks without preconditions.
'Time to begin talks, put end to excuses'
US National Security Advisor James Jones on Wednesday expressed disappointment with the fact that Israel and the Palestinians have not opened direct negotiations.
"It is time to begin those negotiations and to put an end to excuses. It is time for all leaders in the region-Israeli, Palestinian, and Arab-to support efforts for peace. It is time for today's leader to demonstrate the courage and leadership of Anwar Sadat, King Hussein, and Yitzhak Rabin," he said.
Speaking at the Near East Institute in Washington on its 25th anniversary, Jones presented President Obama's position, according to which peace between Israel and the Palestinians would neutralize the threat of terror and the Iranian nuclear threat.
He said, "In our pursuit of a two-state solution, we recognize that peace must be made by the parties and cannot be imposed from the outside...At the same time, we understand that the status quo is not sustainable" as it only "strengthens the rejectionists and weakens those who would live in peace."
In an attempt to ease tensions between Israel and the US, Jones said, "America's commitment to Israel will endure. And everyone must know that there is no space-no space-between the United States and Israel when it comes to Israel's security.
"Our commitment to Israel's security is unshakable. It is as strong as ever. This President and this Administration understands very well the environment-regionally and internationally-in which Israel and the United States must operate. We understand very well that for peace and stability in the Middle East, Israel must be secure."