Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu met with United States envoy George Mitchell on Friday for the third time in four days. The two plan to meet again later in the day, after Mitchell meets with Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah.
While Mitchell meets with Abbas, Netanyahu was expected to gather his seven closest ministers (the "Forum of Seven") to discuss Israel's next steps, and the concessions he is willing to offer in order to restart the diplomatic process.
Defense Minister Ehud Barak has pushed for Israel to make concessions for the sake of restarting talks. Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman and Minister of Strategic Affairs Moshe Yaalon have expressed doubt over the potential for productive talks with the PA in view of recent developments, among them the Fatah conference in which Abbas's party restated its support for terrorism and its refusal to compromise on several key issues.
However, instead of meeting with his ministers, Netanyahu visited Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, the spiritual leader of Shas. He presented the rabbi with possible agreements regarding Jewish building in Judea and Samaria.
The U.S. is hoping to convince Israeli and PA leaders to meet next week with President Barack Obama during the United Nations General Assembly in New York. Abbas has refused to meet with Netanyahu without a complete building freeze in Judea, Samaria, and much of Jerusalem.
Netanyahu has stated that he will not freeze construction in any part of Jerusalem, or order a complete building freeze in Judea and Samaria. “To me, a building freeze means no construction of new housing... new public structures will continue to be built,” Netanyahu said Thursday.
"It's important to promote peace, but we also have responsibilities to the citizens of Israel and to our brothers in Judea and Samaria, who must be allowed to live a normal life,” he stated.
Israel has set no preconditions to talks with the PA, he added. “The Palestinians must go through a tough process, Abu Mazen [Abbas] must decide whether he is Arafat or Sadat,” he concluded.
While Netanyahu has not yet scheduled a meeting with Abbas, the prime minister is scheduled to fly to New York on Wednesday of next week. He is expected to travel along with Lieberman and Barak.