According to a report in Haaretz, Washington hopes that the new unity coalition will enable Israel to take steps to advance peace talks with the Palestinians, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said in a phone call to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday.
According to a senior State Department official cited in Haaretz, Clinton told Netanyahu that she had been briefed on the main points of his coalition agreement with Kadima chairman Shaul Mofaz, and she welcomed the clause in which they pledged that the government would “advance a responsible peace process.” She added that the US is ready to support both sides in an effort to achieve a two-state solution.
Another senior American official said Clinton told Netanyahu that she is interested in hearing what he intends to do about the peace process now that Kadima has joined his government. In particular, she wanted to hear when Netanyahu intends to reply to a letter from Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.
According to Israeli media reports, Netanyahu and his advisors finished drafting his reply to Abbas this week. The process was delayed by the prime minister’s father’s death last week and the subsequent seven-day mourning period, as well as by the fact that the chief Palestinian negotiator, Saeb Erekat, was recently hospitalised following a mild heart attack. An Israeli source cited by Haaretz said that Netanyahu’s envoy, Yitzak Molcho, would meet with Abbas in Ramallah next week to deliver the letter, but that the letter will only repeat Netanyahu’s previously stated position: that Israel is interested in resuming direct negotiations with the Palestinians without preconditions.
In related news, according to a report in Maariv the Obama administration has asked Israel for clarifications about the underlining rationale for the establishment of a unity government. The report claims the administration’s great concern is that the inclusion of Kadima Chairman Shaul Mofaz into the government paves the way to a strike on Iran in the months of September-October, prior to the presidential elections in the US in November. In the past, however, Mofaz expressed his opposition to unilateral Israeli action against Iran and supported coordination with the international community on the matter.
Defence Minister Ehud Barak will be in Washington next week, and high on the agenda of Pentagon and White House officials will most likely be the reasoning and consequences of Israel’s unity government.