On the eve of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu's arrival in New Orleans on
Sunday, the US State Department took a firm stand in favor of direct
Israeli-Palestinian talks as it labeled a possible unilateral Palestinian
declaration of statehood as “not helpful” and discouraged the Palestinian
leadership from taking such a step.
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“We remain convinced that ultimately
the only way that we’re going to get a comprehensive peace is through direct
negotiations, and anything that might affect those direct negotiations we feel
is not helpful and not constructive,” US State Department spokesman Mark Toner
told reporters in Washington on Friday.
Toner had been asked about press reports that the Palestinian leadership might
go to the UN to seek recognition of a state, including one report in which
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas said the US had agreed to support
the Palestinians in that effort if direct talks didn’t bear
Netanyahu is expected to meet on Sunday with US Vice President
Joseph Biden in New Orleans, on Monday with UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and
on Thursday with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. US President Barack Obama
will be in Asia during the visit.
Governmental sources told The Jerusalem
that while in the US, Netanyahu hoped to find a way to bring the
Palestinians back to the negotiating table.
Fledgling talks between both
sides broke down when the moratorium on new settlement construction expired on
The Palestinians have insisted that Israel must stop
settlement construction or at the very least renew themoratorium. Netanyahu has said that he would consider a second freeze only if
the Palestinians recognized Israel as a Jewish state.
But Netanyahu has
not made that demand a condition for direct talks and has called on the
Palestinians to return to the negotiating table without any conditions
Government sources said Netanyahu had made his position very
clear and that concessions were a “two-way street.”
The Palestinians have
to show “flexibility and creativity,” a source said. “If the expectation is that
only one side is going to make concessions, it [the process] is not going to
The Palestinians have rejected calls to recognize Israel as a
Last week in Washington, top Palestinian negotiator Saeb
Erekat said, “They [Israel] want me to join the Zionist movement. I will
In talking with reporters, he stressed that the Palestinians were
also focused on getting direct talks back on track.
On Thursday, Erekat
said that the Arab League had ceded to a US request and extended by a number of
weeks its November 9 deadline for turning away from direct negotiations. Erekat
said the League would now give the US more time to restart negotiations before
Arab states considered alternatives to direct talks. One of those alternatives
has been the idea of seeking recognition of unilateral statehood at the
Erekat told reporters that a unilateral declaration of statehood was
a possibility Palestinians were considering for the future.
weighing our options,” he told reporters.
“I’m not specifying
He added that during his visit to Washington, the option of
turning to the UN to seek unilateral statehood had not been raised in his
conversations with senior US officials, including US Middle East envoy George
Mitchell and senior White House Middle East adviser Dennis Ross.
York in Monday, Netanyahu is expected to urge Ban not to support any unilateral
bid for statehood that the Palestinians might seek to solicit from the United
In Washington on Friday, Toner said the US firmly supported
direct talks as the best option for peace.
“Our goal remains getting both
sides back into direct negotiations,” Toner said.
“Anything that might
affect getting both parties back into direct negotiations we would
Toner also said on Friday that the US remained committed to
the peace process regardless of the recent losses suffered by the Democratic
Party, which will turn over the House of Representatives to the Republicans,
many of whom are expected to push back against any efforts by the Obama
administration to pressure Israel on the issue of settlements.
“It is a
priority for this administration,” Toner said of Middle East
“It's going to remain a priority for this administration,
and obviously we're going to work hand in glove with Congress to advance direct
negotiations and to ultimately reach a settlement.”
Not everyone in the
government was hopeful that the peace process could be fully
Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon said over the weekend, “I
do not think it is possible to come to an agreement on the core issues. I call
on the Palestinians to consider moving to talks toward a longterm interim
agreement that will serve the interests of both peoples.”
He added that
the Palestinian “approach of agreement or incitement is a destructive approach
that could destabilize the region.”
During his visit, Netanyahu is also
expected to discuss regional issues with US officials, such Iran and global
He arrives first in New Orleans on Sunday, where he will meet
with Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal and Biden.
On Monday, he will
address the annual General Assembly of the Jewish Federations of North America
before heading to New York to meet with Ban.
On Wednesday he is expected
to meet with Jewish leaders.
On Thursday, he is scheduled to meet with
Clinton and possibly with New York Governor- elect Andrew
Netanyahu will not carry a letter passed to him by faction heads
of all but the Arab parties, representing 109 out of 120 parliamentarians, which
called on the US to release Jonathan Pollard.
Pollard, a dual American-
Israeli citizen, is serving his 25th year of a life sentence in a North Carolina
prison for passing classified US documents to Israel.
the request to bring the letter to Washington. A statement put out by his office
said he had raised the issue numerous times with the US and did not need a
letter from parliamentarians to continue to press the issue.
Minister’s Office suggested that if the MKs wanted to pass a letter to the US,
it should be done through the American Embassy in Tel Aviv.Rebecca Anna
Stoil contributed to this report.
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