Thursday, July 08, 2010
PM Netanyahu meets with SECDEF Gates in DC
By Jonathan Ferziger July 7 (Bloomberg) -- Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu followed up his fence-mending White House visit by meeting with Defense Secretary Robert Gates to discuss security arrangements that would underlie a Middle East peace treaty. Netanyahu met Gates today at Blair House, the official presidential guesthouse, and said in a television interview that he wants to be sure Israel won’t face missile attacks if it signs a peace agreement with the Palestinians. He later flew to New York to meet United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. “We’ll have to have very strong security arrangements so that the areas that we vacate do not turn into Iranian strongholds for firing rockets and sending terrorists against us,” Netanyahu said in an interview on ABC’s “Good Morning America.” “That’s happened before in Lebanon and in Gaza.” Netanyahu told President Barack Obama yesterday he will take “concrete steps” to ease conditions in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, while challenging Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to engage in direct peace talks. The Israeli leader conferred with Gates on ways to improve security “in the face of regional threats toward the goal of a comprehensive Middle East peace,” the Defense Department said in an e-mailed statement. Gates committed in the 75-minute meeting to help Israel “develop new defenses against emerging threats,” the Pentagon said, without elaborating. The U.S. is already helping Israel improve its defenses against ballistic missile and rocket attacks, the Pentagon said. Obama has requested $205 million from Congress for a defense system known as Iron Dome that is intended to protect Israel from rockets and mortars fired from the Gaza Strip and Lebanon. Shift in Talks After yesterday’s White House encounter with Netanyahu, Obama said he hoped face-to-face negotiations will soon replace indirect talks being mediated by his Middle East envoy, former Senator George Mitchell. Obama and Netanyahu, speaking to reporters at the White House yesterday, both said they wanted to dispel concerns that the U.S. commitment to Israel has been weakened by disputes over construction in West Bank settlements and east Jerusalem. “Reports about the demise of the special United States- Israel relationship aren’t just premature, they’re flat wrong,” Netanyahu said. Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, speaking today during a visit to Vilnius, Lithuania, said direct talks can begin “in about September.” Palestinians Seek ‘Signal’ Abbas said during a visit to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, today that Palestinians are waiting for “a signal from the Israeli government,” which must agree to stop building settlements and show willingness to negotiate on a two-state solution, Zuhair Alshun, the Palestinian ambassador in Ethiopia, said in a telephone interview. U.S. officials say that relations with the Israeli government have grown closer since March, when Israel’s announcement of an east Jerusalem housing plan during a visit by Vice President Joe Biden drew criticism from Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. “I think we can say with some degree of encouragement that the relationship between the United States and Israel is back on track,” Democratic Senator Joseph Lieberman said at a press conference today while visiting Jerusalem. Netanyahu told ABC that Israel is prepared to “take risks” for peace as long as it doesn’t have to face a threat such as the 2007 seizure of the Gaza Strip by Hamas. The Islamic movement rejects Israel’s right to exist and fired about 3,200 rockets and mortars into Israel in 2008, according to the Israeli army. Israel cited the attacks as the reason for its military offensive in Gaza in December 2008, which left more than 1,000 Palestinians and 13 Israelis dead. Hamas, classified as a terrorist group by the U.S. and Israel, continued to fire rockets after the operation. The number of projectiles fired from Gaza totaled 708 last year and about 160 so far this year, the army said June 8.