|Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel is due to meet with President Obama in Washington tomorrow. (Associated Press/ Pool)|
JERUSALEM — Israel’s prime minister said yesterday that the main goal of his visit to the White House this week would be to move beyond American-mediated talks with the Palestinians to direct negotiations.
The United States has been shuttling between the Israelis and Palestinians since May, hoping to prod them to move to direct negotiations by the fall. The Palestinians have refused to engage with Israel directly, fearing they will have nothing to show for the effort.
Speaking to his Cabinet at the start of its weekly meeting yesterday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said there is “no alternative’’ to entering direct negotiations. “Whoever wants peace must hold direct talks for peace. I hope this will be one of the results of the visit to Washington,’’ he said.
Netanyahu is to depart for Washington on today and to meet with President Obama tomorrow. Obama will try to accelerate the prospects of face-to-face peace talks when he meets Netanyahu, White House officials said Friday. While the Israeli prime minister has agreed to direct talks in principle, he has given little indication about what concessions he is prepared to make and could come under pressure from Obama while in Washington to do so.
The Palestinians have sought an Israeli pledge to halt all settlement construction in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. Israel has refused to freeze all construction, though it has slowed building in both areas.
The Palestinians also want talks to resume from where they broke off under Netanyahu’s predecessor, Ehud Olmert, who offered sweeping concessions.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said last week that the indirect talks have not yielded the kind of progress that would warrant switching to direct negotiations.