Michell, Netanyahu
Michell, NetanyahuIsrael News Photo: Flash 90

A parade of four senior U.S. officials due in Israel this week are expected to increase pressure on Israel to agree to a construction freeze in Judea and Samaria and avoid any action against the Iranian nuclear threat.

The special U.S. envoy to the Middle East, George Mitchell, lands in Israel Sunday after a short visit in Damascus. He will meet with Defense Minister Ehud Barak on Sunday and with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu on Tuesday.

Mitchell has spearheaded U.S. President Barack Obama’s efforts to pressure Israel into a construction freeze in Judea and Samaria, but Netanyahu has so far maintained that building for ‘natural increase’ must be allowed. U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton reportedly told EU officials last week that Israel would soon agree to a freeze.

The U.S. State Department said Mitchell would continue to focus on the Israeli-Palestinian Authority conflict in his visit. “He wants to be clear that, you know, all sides are creating the conditions, putting themselves in position so that when we begin a formal negotiating process, we’ve put ourselves in the best position to have a successful outcome,” State department spokesman Phillip Crowley said.

On Monday, U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates is to land in Israel and will meet with Netanyahu. Aides said his visit would focus on Iran, and Gates is expected to tell the Israelis that Obama is serious on ending Iran’s nuclear program, and that his offer to Iran for negotiations is not open-ended.

Later in the week, U.S. National Security Advisor James Jones and White House Iranian affairs expert Dennis Ross will meet with Netanyahu. The White House said the two would “discuss the broad range of issues in our relationships with Israel and the Palestinian Authority [building] on discussions special envoy Mitchell and Secretary Gates will have a few days earlier.”

Arrival of Four Officials Said to be "Coincidental"
American officials said the convergence of four senior officials on Israel in one week was “coincidental.”

Netanyahu also downplayed the significance of the visits on Sunday morning. “These visits are taking place as part of the ongoing relationship between Israel and the U.S.,” he said. “Even in friendly relationships there are different opinions. We want to reach understandings so we can achieve our common goals – peace, security, and development in the Middle East.”