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(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
No meetings between Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, or senior-level officials on either side, are expected until after the US completes its Middle East policy review, The Jerusalem Post has learned.
This is true even though Netanyahu said in Washington that he was ready to begin negotiations with the Palestinians immediately, and even though Yitzhak Molcho has unofficially been appointed his envoy on the Palestinian issue.
Molcho, along with National Security Adviser Uzi Arad and Intelligence Services Minister Dan Meridor returned Wednesday from London and a meeting with George Mitchell and his staff.
The meeting centered on Iran and the settlements issue, and follow-up meetings are expected next week.
Netanyahu is said to be interested in holding off on his first meeting with Abbas until various issues are settled with the Americans, including the settlement issue, and what authorities a future Palestinian state would have to give up.
Abbas is scheduled to meet US President Barack Obama on Thursday.
The Palestinians have said that they are not interested in restarting negotiations until Israel commits itself to a two-state solution and ceases construction activity in the settlements.
Netanyahu, meanwhile, told the Knesset Wednesday that Israel was committed to agreements signed by previous governments - the closest he has come in public to adopting the two-state solution formula.
"We are in favor of moving forward with the diplomatic process with the Palestinians," he said. "And I want to point out a central principle. The government of Israel, which I head, is committed to diplomatic and international agreements that the government has signed, and we expect that others will honor their obligations as well."
Israel, with 14 reservations, adopted the road map, which calls ultimately for the creation of a Palestinian state.
Netanyahu said it would be good for the Arab countries to join the peace efforts and take "concrete and symbolic steps toward normalization - and not later, but now. They are asking things from us now, so they need to ask things of the Palestinians now, and of the Arab world."
Netanyahu, in a speech interrupted numerous times by opposition MKs, said, "There is an opportunity here, and there may be an opportunity for peace. Previous governments have so far been unable to bring peace, which has receded under a rain rockets and missiles."
Netanyahu said he wanted to widen the "circle of peace," and that he was glad US President Barack Obama agreed with him on that matter.
"We first want to strengthen the existing peace circle," he said, referring to strengthening ties with Egypt and Jordan. "But we think it is possible to widen it. We welcome the efforts of President Obama to bring about [the Arab state's] normalization steps with Israel. I think this is something new, refreshing, and which completely corresponds with our views.
"The partnership of the Arab countries will bolster peace and give both us and the Palestinians stability," he said, before alluding to the Iranian nuclear program, which many Arab countries also consider a threat.
"In the Middle East, there are threats which threaten us all. We have the opportunity to broaden the circle of peace, and I'm glad that President Obama sees eye to eye with us on this opportunity," he said.
The prime minister also reiterated the importance he placed on economic development in the Palestinian Authority and "changing the situation on the ground."
"We are acting to promote economic projects in the Palestinian Authority," he said. "There is an opportunity to get investments by third-party countries in Europe, Asia and from other places, even the Arab world, even the Persian Gulf."
Kadima leader Tzipi Livni spoke directly after the prime minister and slammed him for "wasting" an opportunity last week in Washington to come to important understandings with the new US administration, as well as for what she said was a lack of vision.
"If there is one thing you succeeded in doing, it is to turn all Israelis into worried citizens," Livni began.
"The role of a leader is not to terrify the nation," she went on. "If there are decisions that need to made, make them. If there are things that need to be done, do them. But enough with standing on this podium on every issue and terrifying the nation." She reiterated previous criticism of the size of Netanyahu's government, saying that "there is no government in Jerusalem. There are ministers and new assistants in the hundreds, but there is no government, and there is no vision in any field."
Along with again presenting his case for economic peace to the Knesset, Netanyahu on Wednesday convened the ministerial committee he heads for "improving the situation of the Palestinian residents of Judea and Samaria."
His office put out a statement after the meeting, saying he would present the committee with a series of economic projects "with a view toward the rapid and efficient advancement of those projects deemed to be worthy." Netanyahu said an emphasis would be given to projects that could be financed with international capital.
Defense Minister Ehud Barak presented a number of projects to the committee, including the establishment of an industrial zone in the Mukeibila-Jenin area of northern Samaria, the establishment of an industrial zone for the processing and marketing of agricultural produce in Jericho, and the establishment of a new Palestinian city near Ramallah. He said some 100 different projects were currently in various planning stages.
In a related development, Netanyahu told a visiting US Congressional delegation that included senators Frank Lautenberg from New Jersey, Robert Casey from Pennsylvania and Ted Kaufman from Delaware, and Rep. Timothy Walz from Minnesota that no one should have any illusions about Iran's desire to develop a nuclear bomb.
Referring to an article in the current issue of Newsweek entitled, "They may not want the bomb," Netanyahu further said that because Iran was not a responsible regime, but one with ideological true believers at the helm, no one knew how they would use nuclear power.
On the settlement issue, Netanyahu told the delegation that Israel would deal with the illegal outposts, and as far as existing communities were concerned, there was a need to find a way with the US administration to enable "normal life to continue."â€¢