Obama envoy holding first talks with Netanyahu government

April 16th, 2009 - 3:39 pm ICT by IANS  

Barack Obama Jerusalem, April 16 (DPA) US special envoy George Mitchell met Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman Thursday morning, holding his first talks in Israel since the new government of hardline Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu took office last month.
Meeting Israeli President Shimon Peres earlier in the morning, the envoy reiterated Barack Obama administration’s commitment to Israeli security, but also to a two-state solution to the Middle East conflict.

Netanyahu’s office has said his government is still undergoing a policy review, which will take several more weeks to complete.

Heading into the meeting in Jerusalem, the outspoken and controversial Lieberman, of the ultra-nationalist Israel Beiteinu coalition party, would not comment on Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit’s comments to a Russian television station that he would not be welcome in Egypt.

Abul Gheit said Wednesday that Cairo will have working relations with Israel, but not with Lieberman, who has angered Egypt with a series of blunt statements, including that President Hosny Mubarak should “go to hell” if he continued to refuse to visit Israel.

Mitchell was later to have dinner with Netanyahu. On Friday, the envoy of US President Barack Obama is expected to travel to the West Bank for talks with President Mahmoud Abbas and other Palestinian officials.

The Obama envoy, who met Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barak in Tel Aviv shortly after his arrival Wednesday evening from north Africa, also in the earlier legs of his trips emphasised the US administration’s determination to push for a two-state solution to the Middle East conflict.

Israeli-Palestinian peace talks entered a hiatus at the end of last year, as Israel began an election period, and have not restarted.

Netanyahu, whose hawkish Likud party defeated the centrist Kadima party of Tzipi Livni, has refused explicitly to endorse a two-state solution to the conflict, which the international community and the Palestinians see as the end result of the negotiations.

Lieberman further confused the issue by publicly declaring as void the so-called Annapolis process, which formed the basis of the nearly year-long negotiations.

The Israeli Yediot Ahronot daily, quoting a conversation between a Jewish leader and White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel, reported Thursday that Obama wants to condition US support of Israel regarding Iran on the removal of Jewish settlement outposts in the occupied West Bank.

According to Yediot, Emanuel told the local Jewish leader that Israel and the Palestinians will sign a final peace deal based on the two-state solution within the next four years, no matter what.

The daily added that Netanyahu had wanted to meet Obama in early May, when he was planning to travel to Washington for the annual AIPAC (American Israel Public Affairs Committee) conference, but was told by the White House the president would not be in town.

It quoted US administration officials as saying that Obama planned to break the tradition of the previous administration of George W. Bush, who would host the previous Israeli prime ministers many times a year, often on short notice.

Netanyahu’s office said he is now likely to meet Obama late next month.

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