Netanyahu Under Strong Pressure Not to Extend Freeze

As Netanyahu prepares to leave for the US, ministers and loudspeakers outside his office remind him of his pledge to resume Jewish construction.

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Hillel Fendel, | updated: 11:54

Obama talking to Netanyahu
Obama talking to Netanyahu
Israel news photo: White House

As Prime Minister Netanyahu prepares to leave Monday for his meeting with U.S. President Obama on Tuesday, loudspeakers outside his office, and Cabinet ministers inside, remind him of his pledge to resume Jewish construction in Judea and Samaria.

Netanyahu will be making his third try in four months to have a positive meeting with the American leader. In March, he was shunted into the White House via a back door and did not participate in a public press conference with Obama, prompting Congressional criticism of Obama for mistreating a valued ally.

Five weeks ago, just after the flotilla incident, a scheduled Netanyahu-Obama meeting in Washington was called off when White House staffers feared that Netanyahu would use the occasion to explain to the world Israel’s position on the flotilla incident.

This time, Obama is planning to make up for the previous occasions – at least publicly. “What's most important for the United States is appearances,” AFP quotes Barry Rubin, editor of The Middle East Review of International Affairs, as saying.  “Basically this is an administration that wants to look good, that wants to claim it's achieving something, and appearances could be spun in that direction."

No Rift
For the record, American officials are saying that relations between the
U.S. and Israel are fine. “There is absolutely no rift between the United States and Israel,” said spokesman and Obama speechwriter Ben Rhodes, whose official title is deputy national security advisor for strategic communications.

Strong Pressure on Netanyahu not to Extend Freeze
Netanyahu, for his part, is facing strong domestic pressure not to agree to extend the ten-month freeze on Jewish construction in
Judea and Samaria. The freeze, which Netanyahu agreed to under strong pressure from the United States as a means by which to get the PA to agree to talk with Israel, is set to expire in late September.

During this morning’s Cabinet meeting, several Cabinet ministers sought to remind Netanyahu to remain firm and not give in to further pressure on the matter. Minister Yuli Edelstein (Likud) said, “I call upon the Prime Minister: You gave your word that the freeze would not be extended, and I believe that you will remain true to your word.” Ministers from Shas and the Jewish Home made similar statements.

The ministerial committee for legislation is considering a proposal by Likud MK Carmel Shama to require that further construction freezes be decided upon only by the Knesset, not be government ministers. Netanyahu objects, but the ministers of Israel Our Home and Shas have said they will vote in its favor.

Erekat Issues Partial Denial
Just in time for Netanyahu’s trip is an unconfirmed report from London’s Arabic Al-Hayat newspaper that the PA has agreed to let Israel keep 2.3 percent of Judea and Samaria – including the Jewish Quarter of the Old City, Pisgat Ze’ev, Gush Etzion and Modiin Illit – in exchange for the same amount of area south of Hevron and a land passage between Gaza and Judea. Chief PA negotiator Saeb Erekat has already denied the
Old City aspects, adding that that the details of the negotiations are secret and that he would not comment.

Direct Talks
Netanyahu, for his part, said this morning that he would press for direct talks with PA chief Mahmoud Abbas. “There is no substitute for direct talks. Ramallah is only ten minutes from here [by helicopter], and it’s time that Abu Mazen agree to meet with me. Whoever wants peace must agree to direct talks.”