Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon met Sunday with Chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Martin Dempsey, and assured him that the relationship with the U.S. was a "cornerstone" of Israeli security.
During their meeting in Jerusalem, Dempsey and Ya'alon discussed developments in the Middle East and collaboration between the two countries, according to a statement from the Defense Minister's office. Israel Defense Forces Chief of Staff Benny Gantz was present at the meeting as well.
Ya'alon thanked Dempsey for "being a true friend of the State of Israel and the IDF," declaring: "We truly appreciate the close relations between the United States and Israel. For us, the United States is a strategic ally and our greatest friend. Our relations with the United States are a cornerstone of Israel's national security."
The defense minister also told the U.S. general that this was a "critical week" regarding progress in negotiations with the peace process.
Ya'alon has recently come under fire for his remarks on the peace process, including his statements accusing Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas of failing to be a partner for peace and coining Secretary of State John Kerry "obsessive and messianic" in his pursuit of peace between Israel and the Palestinians.
"This is a critical week for the Israeli-Palestinian issue and we appreciate the efforts made by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, as well as the commitment and contribution of President Obama towards this endeavor," Ya'alon said.
Senior American officials held marathon meetings this past week with Netanyahu and Abbas in order to resolve the crisis over the release of Palestinian prisoners and to formulate an agreement allowing for the extension of negotiations between the two sides past April 29.
Kerry met with Abbas for extended talks in Amman on Wednesday, trying to convince him to agree to push forward the negotiations, while simultaneously holding phone conversations with Netanyahu. Accompanying U.S. President Barack Obama on his visit to Rome later in the weel, Kerry continued his phone conversations with both Netanyahu and Abbas.
Martin Indyk, the U.S. envoy to the peace talks, was also shuttling between Jerusalem and Ramallah from early Friday morning in an effort to resolve the crisis.
A senior Israeli official said Saturday that the Netanyahu government was offering to free additional Palestinian prisoners in exchange for extending the peace talks by several months and for the Palestinians not taking unilateral steps in the United Nations during that period. Israel is waiting for a response to the offer, which was made via the United States. If the Palestinians agree, Israel will free the fourth batch of Palestinian prisoners over the next few days, but this apparently will not include Israeli Arab prisoners.
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