Israeli leader plans US trip to defuse settlements row
THE Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, is expected to meet top US administration figures in Washington next week after sharp international condemnation yesterday of his government's most recent plans to expand a Jewish settlement.
Hillary Clinton, the US Secretary of State, said Mr Netanyahu had offered the US "useful and productive" proposals to defuse one of the most serious diplomatic rows between the two countries in decades.
But there was no sign yet that these went far enough to meet Washington's demands for measures to repair the damage caused by last week's announcement by Israel that it intends building 1,600 homes in the ultra-Orthodox Jerusalem settlement of Ramat Shlomo.
The announcement last week prompted the Palestinian President, Mahmoud Abbas, to say he would not take part in freshly arranged indirect "proximity" negotiations with Israel.
Mrs Clinton is expected to meet Mr Netanyahu when he goes to Washington on Monday for the annual conference of the pro-Israel lobby group AIPAC.
"We all condemned the announcement, and we all are expecting both parties to move toward the proximity talks," she said after a Moscow meeting of the US-EU-UN-Russia Quartet on the Middle East.
The US presidential envoy, George Mitchell, will hold talks with the Israeli Prime Minister tomorrow about the US demands, but a senior Israeli official said he could not confirm a Fox News report that Barack Obama had scheduled a meeting with Mr Netanyahu on Tuesday.
The Quartet also provoked a dismissive rebuttal from Israel's right-wing Foreign Minister, Avigdor Lieberman, by urging talks that would be designed to lead to a Palestinian state within two years. While reiterating calls for a full settlement freeze, it applauded the determination of Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad to complete the internal preparations of a state within that period.
The US is widely believed to have demanded last week that Israel rescinds the Ramat Shlomo plan, enacts confidence-building measures ahead of the talks, and promises that the talks will discuss "core" issues between the two sides, said to be borders, refugees and the future of Jerusalem.
A statement by Mr Netanyhau's office said that there was "a real effort by Israel to aid the US administration in renewing negotiations though trust-building measures with the Palestinian Authority". (© Independent News Service)