PM: Israel won't give up J'lem sovereignty

PMO sources: Netanyahu to urge Iran sanctions, "normal life" in settlements during Europe tour.

Binyamin Netanyahu 248.88 (photo credit: AP)
Binyamin Netanyahu 248.88
(photo credit: AP)
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu arrived in London on Monday for two days of meetings with British Prime Minister Gordon Brown and US Mideast mediator George Mitchell, making clear that he will not allow anyone to question Israel's sovereignty over Jerusalem. Britain, along with the rest of the EU and the US, was highly critical recently of both the approval of plans to build a compound of Jewish homes at the site of the Shepherd Hotel in Sheikh Jarrah, and also the eviction of two Palestinian families from Jewish-owned property in the same east Jerusalem neighborhood. This issue is expected to come up both in Netanyahu's talks with Brown on Tuesday, and in his meeting with Mitchell on Wednesday morning. A senior source in the Prime Minister's Office said on Netanyahu's plane before taking off that Israel would not accept any limitations on its sovereignty in the capital. Likewise, the official said the prime minister would continue to insist in his talks with Mitchell - in a meeting that will deal with how to get Israel and the Palestinians back to the negotiation table - that normal life in the settlements continue to be accommodated. In Israel's diplomatic lexicon, "normal life in the settlements" has replaced "natural growth" to refer to the type of building Israel wants to continue beyond the Green Line. Officials in Netanyahu's entourage continued to lower expectations in advance of the Mitchell encounter, saying that although there has been a degree of progress in the discussions leading up to the meeting, a "breakthrough" was not expected. The US and Israel have been wrangling for weeks about the nature of a settlement freeze that US President Barack Obama called for in the early days of his presidency, and which the Palestinians have now made a condition for restarting negotiations. In addition to trying to get Israel to announce some kind of moratorium on the settlements, the US has also been trying - so far to no avail - to win normalization gestures from the Arab world. In Washington, the State Department said on Monday that Mitchell is getting closer to winning agreement by the Israelis and Palestinians to resume peace talks. Department spokesman Ian Kelly told reporters that Wednesday's talks between Mitchell and Netanyahu will not necessarily produce a breakthrough. But Kelly said the process of laying the groundwork for Israeli-Palestinian peace talks was moving closer to fruition. Pressed to explain what had moved the process forward, he declined to offer any details. Netanyahu said at Sunday's cabinet meeting that he expected that talks with the Palestinians would begin again at the end of September. Officials in his office, however, would not reveal the source of his optimism - regarding either the details of a possible settlement freeze, or what gestures the Arab world was considering. While the Mitchell meeting and the Palestinian issue has dominated the discussion in the media prior to the prime minister's visit, Iran is likely to take up as much time during his meetings with Brown on Tuesday and with German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Thursday. Sources in the Prime Minister's Office said Netanyahu would tell both leaders that there was now a need to apply "maximum" pressure on Iran to get it to stop its nuclear program. On Sunday evening, prior to flying to London, he spoke with French President Nicolas Sarkozy and relayed a similar message. This is Netanyahu's third visit overseas since taking office on March 31, following visits to the US, and then to France and Italy. He has also made day trips to meet with President Hosni Mubarak in Egypt and King Abdullah in Jordan. Immediately after landing, Netanyahu went for a meeting with a number of senior members of the British press. On Tuesday, before meeting Brown, he is scheduled to speak with leaders of the Jewish community. A joint press conference is scheduled after the Brown meeting. Netanyahu is accompanied by his wife, Sarah, as well as his senior staff: National Security Adviser Uzi Arad, Cabinet Secretary Zvi Hauser, Director of Policy Planning Ron Dermer, Military Attache Meir Kalifi, Chief of Staff Natan Eshel and spokesman Nir Hefetz. AP contributed to this report.•