Top Israeli ministers to frame response to U.S. demands on peace talks

17:51, March 26, 2010      

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Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is set to convene a meeting with six senior cabinet ministers on Friday to try to formulate a response to U.S. demands regarding the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.

The seven-minister forum, which local news service Ynet reported will start early in the afternoon, comes hours after Netanyahu concluded his latest trip to Washington, apparently with notable differences still remaining between his government and U.S. President Barack Obama's administration.

A key sticking point is the Israeli construction in East Jerusalem, the predominantly Arab section of the holy city the Palestinians claim to be the capital of their future state.

While the Obama administration urges Israel to freeze construction in the disputed territory, Netanyahu has so far refused to follow and has repeatedly vowed to allow building across Jerusalem.

Washington also demands that Israel halt settlement construction in the West Bank even after the ongoing partial moratorium ends in September, transfer more territories to Palestinian security control, release a number of Palestinian prisoners, and agree to discuss all the core issues of the decades- old conflict in the U.S.-mediated indirect negotiations, according to Ynet.

Yet in view of the right-wing dominance in the Israeli cabinet and in the seven-minister inner circle, and also in light of the importance of the alliance with the United States, blistering debates and delicate considerations seem unavoidable to the Netanyahu administration, which Ynet said would likely present its response to the U.S. government after the upcoming Passover holidays, which end on April 5.

Meanwhile, Netanyahu's aides were sending different signals.

Nir Hefez, Netanyahu's spokesman, told Army Radio that Netanyahu had reached a "list of understandings" regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict with the Obama administration, beside additional points still in disagreement.

He added that Israel's construction policy will not change, but the Israeli government "is prepared to make additional steps in order to advance peace talks."

Yet shortly after, the Israeli government issued a clarification, quoted by local daily Ha'aretz, that any understanding with the United States did not mean American backing for Israeli construction in East Jerusalem.

Government spokesman Mark Regev was quoted as saying that when Hefez said understandings had been reached, he was "articulating the Israeli position, he is not articulating a joint position."

Source: Xinhua
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