Netanyahu Seeks Broad Coalition to Push Forward Israeli-Palestinian Peace Talks

Netanyahu’s statements were another hint he is not interested in having Habayit Hayehudi join the coalition unless one of the center-left parties, such as Yesh Atid or Labor, also join.

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Barak Ravid
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ברק רביד - צרובה
Barak Ravid

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu wants to establish as broad a coalition as possible to promote an agreement with the Palestinians, he told a meeting of Likud ministers Sunday morning. Netanyahu’s statements were another hint he is not interested in having Habayit Hayehudi join the coalition unless one of the center-left parties, such as Yesh Atid or Labor, also join.

“We need a broad government that on one hand will allow us to conduct and advance a significant process of negotiations and will not allow at any given time bringing down [the government] or cutting [negotiations] short,” said Netanyahu, according to three ministers who attended the session. “And on the other hand, the government must be broad enough so that it will not be submissive and a hostage and be dragged into unnecessary concessions,” he added.

Netanyahu and his National Security Adviser Yaakov Amidror presented the cabinet Sunday with the preliminary schedule for U.S. President Barack Obama’s upcoming visit to Israel on March 20. Netanyahu made it clear to the cabinet that one of his goals for the visit is making progress with the Palestinians.

“Starting up the [negotiation] process with the Palestinians will be on the agenda during Obama’s visit,” said Netanyahu at the start of the cabinet meeting. “There is no doubt this matter will be part of the work of the next government,” he said.

Last week Netanyahu’s special envoy for the peace process, Isaac Molho, spent two days in Washington and met with the new U.S. secretary of state, John Kerry, for the first time since Kerry took office. Kerry, who has declared a number of times in recent weeks that he intends on pushing the peace process, is expected to come to Israel in the next few weeks − even before Obama’s visit.

Molcho also met in Washington with U.S. National Security Adviser Tom Donilon and the U.S. Special Envoy for Middle East Peace David Hale. Molho returned to Israel last Thursday and updated Netanyahu on what he heard from the senior American officials. Amidror will be in Washington this week to continue preparations for Obama’s visit.

‘Operation’ Unbreakable Alliance

Despite Netanyahu’s statements, White House sources told Haaretz that Obama does not intend to unveil any new plan concerning the peace process on his upcoming visit to Israel, the West Bank and Jordan. “Of course the president is committed to, and will remain engaged in, the goal of achieving a lasting peace, but restarting the peace process is not the purpose of the trip,” said a senior White House official. “President Obama will reinforce with both Israeli and Palestinian leaders during their separate meetings, the need to make a renewed and sustained commitment to direct negotiations, but it will be only one of many topics on his agenda,” said the official.

Obama’s trip to Israel will be run like a military operation in most every way. It even has a code name: Unbreakable Alliance in English, and Brit Amim ‏(A Covenant of Peoples‏) in Hebrew. The Prime Minister’s Office came up with a large number of creative ideas for the American president’s visit, but diplomatic protocol combined with ceremonies, speeches and a heavy schedule of meetings have made such initiatives largely irrelevant.

Obama will land in Israel in the afternoon of Wednesday March 20, and will spend 48 hours here. Forty-three of those hours will be in Jerusalem and the other five in Ramallah. “At first, we thought to show Obama other parts of Israel and not just Jerusalem,” said Amidor at the cabinet meeting Sunday morning. “We thought to take him to Lake Kinneret or Masada, but there was simply no time,” said Amidror.

Most of Obama’s trip will be dedicated to official events and meetings. The only event for Obama that will break somewhat with diplomatic protocol is the speech he wants to give to present his message to the Israeli public. The American president wanted to speak to students, but the White House has yet to decide where the speech will be held and who will be the audience.

The Prime Minister’s Bureau has posted “logos” designed by three different graphic artists on Netanyahu’s official Facebook page. The logo that gathers the most “likes” will be the one used for the visit and will be printed on all official documents, flags and posters for the visit.

Netanyahu leading the weekly cabinet meeting Sunday. Credit: AP

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