Posted by Vicki S. Nikolaidis
|Last update – 09:54 31/03/2010|
By Barak Ravid, Natasha Mozgovaya, Haaretz Service and Agencies
Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman on Wednesday deemed unreasonable the demands of the United States and the international community over Israel’s construction in East Jerusalem.
“This demand from the international community is mainly an opportunity to increase pressure on Israel and to demand unreasonable things,” the foreign minister said at a joint press conference with European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton.
Meanwhile, the government’s top seven ministers deliberated late into the night on Wednesday over Israel’s response to the demands put forth by the Obama administration regarding construction in East Jerusalem and the future of the peace process.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had anticipated an official reply to the demands from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as early as yesterday, but none was forthcoming.
Israeli diplomatic sources in Jerusalem said a further delay in responding to Clinton could exacerbate the rift between the two countries. They said it may compel U.S. Vice President Joe Biden to cancel a scheduled meeting with Netanyahu in Washington next week.
The “forum of seven ministers” was unanimous in agreeing on the need to resolve the crisis with the United States. Still, a majority of the ministers expressed serious reservations over Clinton’s demands, including the cancellation of the Ramat Shlomo housing plan in East Jerusalem.
Netanyahu will make every effort to formulate an Israeli response that will be both agreeable to the ministers and mollify the Obama administration.
During their telephone conversation late Tuesday, Biden failed to persuade Netanyahu to agree to the administration’s demands. “There was a difficult air to the conversation, and it ended with no results and no agreements,” a senior official in Jerusalem said.
The American administration said yesterday that it was still waiting for a reply from Netanyahu.
Meanwhile, Clinton departed for Moscow on Wednesday to participate in a conference of the Quartet for Mideast peace. Washington has made clear that it would behoove Israel to submit a response before the Quartet convenes its meeting tomorrow.
The U.S. envoy to the Middle East, George Mitchell, delayed his visit to the region this week due to the rift, though Mitchell is now considering whether to arrive on Sunday to advance indirect “proximity talks” between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.
Netanyahu is scheduled to fly to Washington on Sunday for pro-Israel lobby AIPAC’s annual conference. An Israeli diplomatic source said the Americans are considering a high-level boycott of the prime minister – namely, no meeting with either Biden or Clinton – if he fails to issue an official reply to Clinton’s demands by tomorrow.
U.S. President Barack Obama will not be in Washington during Netanyahu’s visit.