Rice snubs Netanyahu in upcoming visit

Meeting with the opposition head is usually part of the protocol; Likud leader calls for construction in E1.

Maaleh adumin E1 224 (photo credit: Tovah Lazaroff)
Maaleh adumin E1 224
(photo credit: Tovah Lazaroff)
Opposition leader Binyamin Netanyahu has not received an invitation to meet with US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice during her trip to Israel that begins on Saturday night, sources close to Netanyahu said Tuesday. Rice is set to with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Defense Minister Ehud Barak and her close confidante, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, but she will apparently forego a meeting with the head of the opposition, which is usually part of the protocol when international figures visit Israel. Netanyahu's associates said they were not surprised by the snub, because her visit was intended to promote the Annapolis process that Rice initiated and Netanyahu opposes. They emphasized that he had better relations with other American leaders such as Vice President Dick Cheney, with whom he met on Sunday. "She apparently doesn't want to hear what he has to say," a source close to Netanyahu said. Netanyahu had to actively campaign to receive time with US President George W. Bush when he came to Israel in January. The Likud leader was originally off Bush's itinerary but he was added after the snub made headlines. The two men ended up meeting for twice as long as had been set. On a day when Barak announced moves intended to ease conditions for Palestinians ahead of Rice's visit, Netanyahu took a step Tuesday that is expected to worsen his relationship with the State Department. Netanyahu visited the controversial E-1 area between Jerusalem and Ma'aleh Adumim and called upon Olmert to start building there immediately despite fierce American opposition. The building plans in the area were approved when Netanyahu was prime minister but have been frozen since due to American pressure. "All of Israel has been built, not because of the approval of the Arabs and the international community, but despite their opposition," Netanyahu told reporters atop a dusty hilltop. "We need the kind of leadership that would insist on this." Netanyahu said it was not right that Ma'aleh Adumim's expansion was being prevented while illegal Arab building went unchecked. He reiterated his recent calls for Shas to leave the government following Livni's admission to Channel 2 on Friday night that Jerusalem's fate was being negotiated. "If the government continues, not only will Jerusalem be encircled by a ring of adversarial Arabs and eventually Hamas, Jerusalem itself will be divided," Netanyahu said. "My friends in Shas who say they want to save Jerusalem must leave the government immediately." A Shas spokesman said in response that they received reassurances from Livni that Jerusalem was not being negotiated and that if the opposite were true, the party would leave the government. Ma'aleh Adumim mayor Benny Kashriel said he would start a campaign after Pessah to pressure the government to build in E-1. He said he would move his office to the area as part of the campaign.