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(photo credit: AP)
A much anticipated meeting Thursday in Paris between Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and US Mideast envoy George Mitchell has been canceled, The Jerusalem Post has learned.
Instead, Defense Minister Ehud Barak will be going to the US on Monday to meet with Mitchell. It will be Barak's second visit to the US this month.
The Netanyahu-Mitchell meeting was expected to deal with the lingering settlement construction dispute between Jerusalem and Washington, and attempt to find a formula on the matter that would be satisfactory to both sides.
According to diplomatic officials, the meeting was canceled because both sides needed more time to prepare.
While the US is demanding a complete settlement freeze, Netanyahu has said that it was unreasonable to expect that Israel would completely freeze all settlement construction.
Netanyahu, who began a three day European trip on Tuesday with a meeting in Rome with Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, said in an interview broadcast Tuesday on Italy's RAI television network that the fate of the settlements would be determined in final status negotiations with the Palestinians.
But, he said, "Pending a final peace agreement, the people who are there [in the settlements] will be allowed to live a normal life. They have children, they need kindergartens, they need health clinics and so on. This is, I think, an equitable position which reflexes our willingness to enter immediately in peace negotiations and get on with peace. I think that the more we spend time arguing about this, the more we waste time instead of moving towards peace."
Netanyahu said that he had accepted the idea that there should be no pre-judgment of the final status agreement, and as a result, has said that Israel will not build new settlements or expropriate additional land to expand existing settlements.