Sunday, August 29, 2010

Pm Netanyahu wont discuss the freeze before talks begin; Freeze part of the core issues at negotiations

(Jpost).Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu is expected to reject a call to extend the settlement construction freeze and is likely to make clear again, before he departs to Washington on Tuesday, that the settlements are an issue – like all the other core issues – to be discussed in the negotiations themselves.

Senior government officials have said recently that Netanyahu does not intend to get drawn into a public discussion now on the issue, since it would be tantamount to debating the Palestinians’ preconditions for talks, which he has made clear Israel has rejected.

Government officials have said there is no difference between the Palestinians saying they would not enter the talks until there was a total settlement freeze – preconditions Israel did not accept – and saying that they would walk away from the talks on September 27 if Israel did not extend the moratorium.

Palestinian Authority chief negotiator Saeb Erekat rejected Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s calls for fortnightly face-to-face meetings with PA President Mahmoud Abbas during upcoming peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians, Israel Radio reported on Saturday, citing an interview Erekat conducted with the BBC in Arabic.

In the interview, Erekat added that it is too soon to establish who exactly will meet for negotiations, how often they will do so, and where the meetings will take place.

Erekat emphasized that the most important issue determining the success or failure of the talks at this point is Netanyahu’s stance on whether or not to extend the building freeze in the West Bank, scheduled to end on September 26.

Netanyahu is set to leave Tuesday for Washington for the relaunch of the talks. On Wednesday, he is scheduled to meet US President Barack Obama before an evening dinner that will include Obama, Netanyahu, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, Jordanian King Abdullah II, and Quartet envoy Tony Blair.

Obama is expected to meet privately with each of the participants before the dinner.

On Thursday at the State Department, Netanyahu and Abbas, in the presence of US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and US envoy George Mitchell, will formally relaunch the talks in a brief public ceremony. After that, Netanyahu and Abbas, along with their negotiating teams, will attend their first working meeting, estimated to last three hours.

Netanyahu is expected to leave for Israel from Washington later that day.

The prime minister has made clear that he will lead the negotiations, with the help of a small team headed by his point-man on the Palestinian issue, Yitzhak Molcho. This team will also include on a permanent basis National Security Council head Uzi Arad, director of policy planning Ron Dermer, and representatives of the Foreign Ministry, Defense Ministry and IDF.