Netanyahu denies bending on key issues

Netanyahu denies bending

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said in a closed door meeting on Sunday he has no intention of restarting negotiations with the Palestinians on the basis of the pre-Six Day War lines, throwing cold water on Palestinian claims to the contrary. The prime minister also characterized as inaccurate media reports that he has recently shown flexibility regarding negotiations over Jerusalem and refugees. In Sunday's meeting, according to a gvernment source, Netanyahu reiterated his position that the negotiations with the Palestinians should begin without preconditions, and that once they began, everything could be discussed. But, the official said, Netanyahu said that the idea that he was somehow accepting Palestinian positions on issues such as the pre-June 5, 1967, lines, refugees and Jerusalem just to enable negotiations was "simply not true." According to Netanyahu, the Palestinians' current position was that Israel should accept their positions, and then the negotiations could take place. "That is not going to happen," he said. Netanyahu's words came as Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas arrived in Cairo for talks with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. The two men are expected to discuss the current diplomatic stalemate, with Mubarak likely to brief Abbas on his discussion last week with Netanyahu that led to rare, upbeat comments by Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit, who said that Netanyahu was "moving forward." Aboul Gheit did not provide any details of the reasons for his positive assessment, leading to speculation that Netanyahu was giving in on some of Abbas's preconditions for talks. A source in Netanyahu's office denied this. Regarding the issue of the 1967 lines, the source said the prime minister had made clear frequently that those lines were indefensible, and that he had not changed his opinion. Diplomatic officials said that by trying to get the international community to recognize the pre-1967 armistice lines as the basis for negotiations, Abbas was trying to ensure that any adjustments in the border beyond them would compel Israel to give an equal amount of land from within Israel as compensation. Netanyahu's position is that the pre-1967 lines are not the starting point for talks, but that the reference point should be secure and defensible borders for Israel. If that is the jumping-off point, diplomatic officials explained, then it was not a given that Israel would have to exchange land at a 1:1 ratio, as former prime minister Ehud Olmert was nearly willing to do in the offer he made to Abbas in the fall of 2008. The US is trying to straddle the Israeli and Palestinian positions. Following the imposition of the construction moratorium in the settlements in November, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the US believed that "through good-faith negotiations the parties can mutually agree on an outcome which ends the conflict and reconciles the Palestinian goal of an independent and viable state based on the 1967 lines, with agreed swaps, and the Israeli goal of a Jewish state with secure and recognized borders that reflect subsequent developments and meet Israeli security requirements." Israeli officials at the time praised this comment, indicating that it could possibly serve as the elusive terms of reference for talks between Israel and the Palestinians. Washington is believed now to be trying to get Palestinian approval of this formula as well. In what some observers are interpreting as an indication that this is proving more difficult than anticipated, US Mideast envoy George Mitchell, who was widely expected to visit the region either this week or next, is now not expected until the third or fourth week of January. He has not been here since early November. Clinton's statement in November was an outgrowth of comments US President Barack Obama made to the United Nations in September. Then, Obama said, "The time has come to relaunch negotiations without preconditions that address the permanent-status issues, security for Israelis and Palestinians, borders, refugees and Jerusalem. "The goal is clear: Two states living side by side in peace and security; a Jewish State of Israel with true security for all Israelis and a viable, independent Palestinian state with contiguous territory that ends the occupation that began in 1967 and realizes the potential of the Palestinian people." Obama referred to ending the "occupation that began in 1967," but was careful in not delineating the pre-1967 lines as the starting point for those negotiations.