PM likely to unveil diplomatic initiative in DC in May

Ross meets Netanyahu, as efforts focused on keeping Quartet from issuing statement tilting toward Palestinian demands.

Netanyahu 311 reuters (photo credit: Reuters)
Netanyahu 311 reuters
(photo credit: Reuters)
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s new diplomatic initiative is likely to be unveiled in Washington in May, possibly during an address to Congress.
In the meantime, his envoy Yitzhak Molcho is expected to ask Quartet representatives traveling to Jerusalem next week to refrain from issuing statements fundamentally changing the Quartet’s position on the conflict, until Netanyahu unveils his new initiative.
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Discussions are being held between Jerusalem and congressional representatives about organizing a speech in Congress when Netanyahu goes to Washington to address the annual AIPAC policy conference, scheduled to begin on May 22.
Netanyahu met on Thursday with White House senior adviser Dennis Ross, who is in the country with a team of Middle East experts – including Fred Hoff and Mara Rudman from US envoy George Mitchell’s team – for talks.
Hoff is Mitchell’s specialist on Syria and Lebanon.
Ross and Hoff met with Defense Minister Ehud Barak, whose influence on Netanyahu is reportedly on the rise, and who is urging the prime minister to place a new Israeli initiative on the international agenda.
Barak, in a Channel 10 interview, said an initiative was essential to maintaining Israel’s position in the world, ensuring future US security assistance, and fending off delegitimization.
While Barak said a major policy address in the US by Netanyahu in May would be important, this was a long way off, and there were immediate diplomatic challenges for Israel on the horizon.
One such challenge is the Quartet principals’ meeting scheduled for March 15 in Paris, to be attended by US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and UN Secretary- General Ban Ki-moon.
Barak said that if that forum issued a statement showing movement closer to the Palestinians’ position, Israel would “be in a worse position. I think we have a lot to lose from passivity.”
There is concern that the Quartet may come out and endorse a key Palestinian position – that a future state be along the 1967 lines.
Both Netanyahu and Barak are demanding, especially in light of the changes in the Arab world, that Israel retain a security presence along the Jordan River.
While Netanyahu is keeping details of any new initiative close to his chest, Barak hinted at a direction, saying there was a widespread understanding of the need to move – in a phased, gradual manner – toward an agreed-upon objective.
Netanyahu did not shed any light on his plan in a meeting on Thursday with Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt.
According to diplomatic officials, Bildt brought a message that Netanyahu had heard from other European leaders in recent days: the need to solve the Palestinian issue now to keep it from becoming an issue that Islamic radicals could use to their advantage in any election in Egypt or other Arab states now going through upheaval.
While there is speculation that Netanyahu is interested in a Palestinian state within temporary borders, with the final borders to be negotiated at a later date, others believe Netanyahu’s plan entails a reiteration of the goal of two states, and the announcement that the IDF will turn control of all the major cities in the West Bank over to the Palestinian Authority, giving it control over some 90 percent of the Palestinian population. Under this plan, the IDF would no longer operate inside the cities, except in extraordinary circumstances.