August 2, 2010 - 12:00am

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told his cabinet members that he made no obligations to the United States in his recent meeting with President Barack Obama for possible direct talks with the Palestinians, sources told Xinhua on Monday.

Addressing his cabinet ministers at a weekly session on Sunday, he estimated that direct talks with the Palestinian National Authority (PNA) could begin within two weeks.

However, he strongly denied that Israel has agreed to Palestinian preconditions for returning to direct talks, including extension of a freeze on settlement activity in the West Bank and negotiations based on the 1967 War ceasefire lines, a source close to Israeli cabinet said.

The U.S. has continued to pressure the PNA to start negotiations, and is constantly assuring the PNA and Arab countries alike that the Israeli premier's political base rests on solid foundations, enabling him to take diplomatic risks without threatening his government's stability, according to the source who declines to be named due to the sensitivity of the issue.

At the session, Netanyahu was also asked if he was familiar with the Palestinian proposal for a resumption of talks, as noted by Palestinian chief negotiator Saeb Erekat who termed them " unprecedentedly generous."

"I know of the proposal that was forwarded to the Americans, but it wasn't passed on to us -- those are things that will only be discussed in the course of direct negotiations," Netanyahu replied.

Netanyahu's political status was also discussed during the meeting, under the framework of U.S. pressure being brought to bear on the Palestinians, as well as on other moderate Arab nations in the area.

The message from White House sources to Jordan and Egypt, among others, was clear cut: the Netanyahu government will not fall in the foreseeable future, and he has no plans to make structural coalition changes.

It was also emphasized that Netanyahu would be able to pass practically any legislation "as far-reaching as it may be" in the makeup of the current coalition, so there was no point in continuing to wait for the opposition Kadima Party to join the coalition or for any other changes in Israel's political system.

The prime minister gave expression to this sentiment, saying he wasn't leaving the ring anytime soon, and cemented that assurance in the course of a remark to a minister during a discussion on the issue of the status of foreign workers.

When one minister noted in passing, "that will happen in another five years -- the next government will have to take up the issue." Netanyahu corrected him, saying, "In five years this government will be the one discussing it."


American Task Force on Palestine - 1634 Eye St. NW, Suite 725, Washington DC 20006 - Telephone: 202-262-0017