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(photo credit: AP [file])
US President Barack Obama's statements about how to advance the peace process do not differ significantly from those of his predecessor, George W. Bush, Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon told The Jerusalem Post on Wednesday.
Ayalon, who was ambassador to the United States during the Bush administration, said Obama was not acting differently than Bush, except for his emphasis on adding a regional element to the diplomatic process.
Ayalon's statements came just two days after the release of a poll indicating that only 31 percent of Israelis consider Obama pro-Israel while 88% thought so of Bush.
"The basic interests and objectives of the US in our region do not change with different administrations," Ayalon said. "Approaches and nuances change but the interests remain the same. Bush made solving the Middle East conflict a priority, no less than Obama. It's not only an American priority but our government's as well."
He denied reports in the Hebrew press that Obama had drafted a Middle East peace plan calling for a democratic, contiguous and demilitarized Palestinian state whose borders would be determined by territorial exchanges with Israel.
According to the reports, the Old City of Jerusalem would be established as an international zone. The initiative would require the Palestinians to give up their claim of a "right of return," and Europe and the US would arrange compensation for refugees, including passports for those residing abroad.
Arab countries would institute confidence-building measures to clear the air with Israel. When Palestinian statehood would be achieved, diplomatic and economic relations would be established between Israel and Arab states.
"I don't know of any Obama plan that has been finalized," said Ayalon, who has been briefed on the closed-door meetings between Netanyahu and Obama. "Don't believe the headlines. What was in the papers was mere speculation, and there is no substance to it," he said.
Ayalon said his Israel Beiteinu Party would oppose the internationalization of Jerusalem and the relinquishing of Israeli sovereignty in the "holy basin" around the Old City. He said the party would also insist that Israel not take in a single Palestinian refugee, citing legal, moral and historical grounds.
Kadima officials reacted positively to the reports about the so-called Obama plan. They expressed optimism that it would force Netanyahu to choose between right- and left-wing elements in his coalition, which they said would expedite his government's downfall and Kadima's return to power.
Kadima leader Tzipi Livni said in a speech at the Knesset marking Jerusalem Day that Israel needed a vision that would be translated into a diplomatic plan to ensure the nation's security and Jerusalem's sanctity.
"We will not be able to keep Jerusalem if we say no to everything, or if out of fear we adopt unwillingness as a policy and frozenness as an ideology," Livni said. "I believe that it is possible, through proper management, to make the world understand the things that are important to us, and with them we can keep Israel as a national home for the Jewish people and Jerusalem as its eternal capital."
Vice Premier Silvan Shalom of the Likud, who was acting prime minister at the time of his speech, responded: "There aren't two Jerusalems. Jerusalem will not be divided. Jerusalem will remain the eternal capital of Israel. It's not a promise. It's a fact. Jerusalem will not be a topic for compromise."