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(photo credit: AP [file])
Three days before Binyamin Netanyahu delivers his anxiously awaited diplomatic speech, officials close to the prime minister said most of what has been written in the Israeli press in recent days about the speech was "baseless."
The sources added on Thursday that only a very small group of Netanyahu's closest advisers knew what he would actually say.
The sources of the leaks, the officials said, were various people, including Likud politicians, whom Netanyahu had consulted about the speech in recent days, and who had then walked away feeling that they knew what he would say.
Not only has the Prime Minister's Office been unwilling to discuss the contents of the speech, it is not even saying who is writing it, although Netanyahu himself is believed to be having a large role in actually penning the address.
Sources said that the speech, which will be delivered in Hebrew, will be shorter than US President Barack Obama's 50-minute address at Cairo University last Thursday.
The sources said the speech was "still a work in progress" and that no draft had been shown to the US. Be that as it may, Reuters quoted Western diplomats Thursday as saying already that the US was skeptical the speech would satisfy Obama.
President Shimon Peres, however, made his opinion clear on Thursday when he put his weight behind the creation of a Palestinian state with provisional borders.
"The road map outlines a clear path and [the sides] should implement the second stage of the road map - declaring a Palestinian state with temporary borders," Peres said Thursday in a meeting with EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana.
Peres's comments were widely seen as an attempt to influence Netanyahu, who - according to sources close to him - is still putting the final touches on his address. Defense Minister Ehud Barak has also spoken in recent days about a Palestinian state with provisional borders.
According to a statement issued by Peres's office, the president told Solana that Israel and the Palestinians should make a clear commitment that the provisional borders would become permanent within a fixed period.
Sources close to Netanyahu said the idea was an old one, and had not gained much traction within the Prime Minister's Office. Some argue that creating a Palestinian state with provisional borders would greatly reduce US pressure on the government.
The sources said there was a great deal of misinformation being circulated as to what Netanyahu planned to say during the speech at the BESA Center at Bar-Ilan University on Sunday.
Speaking to their Quartet counterparts after talks with Netanyahu, US officials reportedly voiced doubts Netanyahu would make the commitments on halting settlement activity or a two-state solution that Obama had been pushing for.
"The Americans are not satisfied with what they have been told," a senior Western diplomat said.
The officials also said that sidestepping the issue by emphasizing the government's commitment to the road map, and thereby implicitly accepting a two-state solution, would not satisfy the White House.
Although sources close to Netanyahu were unwilling to reveal the content of the speech, they did emphasize the importance Netanyahu was attributing to it.
"This is the first time since the elections where the prime minister will, in a concentrated framework, outline his vision on how to move forward on the Palestinian track, and in which he will deal with issues of statehood and settlements," the sources said. "This will be the Israeli vision of how to move things forward."
Peres, for his part, has already laid out where he thought the process should go.
"We are on the cusp of a historic opportunity that we must not miss," Peres said during his meeting with Solana. "I believe that Israel is willing to move on two tracks - the bilateral track with the Palestinians, and the multilateral track with the Arab world."
On the bilateral track, Peres said "the road map presents us with a clear route, and its second phase should be implemented - declaration of a Palestinian state in provisional borders, with a clear promise that the borders would become set within a fixed matter of time."
The idea was immediately dismissed by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas's spokesman Nabil Abu Rudeineh, who told AFP, "We categorically reject Peres's proposal, which takes us back to square one."
The provisional borders, however, are discussed in the road map, which reads as follows: "In the second phase, efforts are focused on the option of creating an independent Palestinian state with provisional borders and attributes of sovereignty, based on the new [Palestinian] constitution, as a way station to a permanent status settlement."
Not only Abu Rudeineh, but also Habayit Hayehudi and the National Union have come out against Peres's initiative. Both of the parties wrote letters to Peres Thursday on the matter, with the National Union writing that while its members "greatly respect the president and the presidency, we cannot accept a situation where the president deviates from his job and butts into diplomatic issues."
Meanwhile, a Maagar Mohot survey commission by the Independent Media Review Analysis, an organization with a right-wing bent, found that 56 percent of the public does not think that Netanyahu should agree to Obama's demand for a complete settlement construction freeze, including in Jerusalem.
According to the poll, carried out on Wednesday and Thursday, 37% of the respondents said Netanyahu should agree, and 7% did not know or had a different answer.
The poll also found that 51% said that Netanyahu should not agree to a possible US demand to uproot settlements blocs as part of an agreement with the Palestinians, 34% thought he should, and 15% said they didn't know.
The poll had a 4.5% point margin of error.
Meanwhile, US Mideast envoy George Mitchell continued his regional tour Thursday with visits to Egypt and Jordan, before going to Lebanon.
In Cairo, after meeting Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Abul Gheit, Mitchell urged the Arab states to take "meaningful steps and important actions" toward peace.
"We are working hard to achieve our objective, a comprehensive peace in the Middle East, including a Palestinian state living side by side in peace and security with Israel," Mitchell told reporters.
"As President Obama said here in Cairo just last week, the Arab states have an important role to play... We regard the Arab peace initiative as an important proposal that we are trying to integrate into our effort," he said. "Proposing the initiative was just the beginning; it brings with it responsibilities to join in taking meaningful steps and important actions that will help us move towards our objective."
But Abul Gheit said that Arab states would take steps toward normalization only once they saw Israel take its own "serious and real" steps.
"Any Arab act must be matched by an act," he said in answer to a question on what exactly was meant by "meaningful Arab steps."
"There must be a substantial Israeli act which consists of a complete end to settlement activity and the withdrawal of the Israeli army from all [West Bank] towns and the end of the [Gaza] blockade," he said.
Jerusalem Post staff contributed to this report.â€¢