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Published : 2014-03-03 20:32
Updated : 2014-03-03 20:32

JERUSALEM (AFP) ― Israel’s prime minister pledged Sunday to resist “pressures” as he left for Washington on a visit expected to center on peace talks with the Palestinians and the Iranian nuclear dispute.

“I am now leaving on an important trip to the U.S. where I will meet with President Barack Obama,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office quoted him as saying as he boarded his plane.

“We will discuss the Iranian issue and the diplomatic process ... In recent years the state of Israel has been under various pressures. We have rejected them ... This is what has been and what will be.”

Although Netanyahu would like the talks with Obama on Monday to focus on Iran’s nuclear ambitions, the White House appears to have a different agenda.
Israeli Border Police stand guard as Palestinians pray in front of a police barrier outside the Damascus Gate in Jerusalem’s Old City on Feb. 28. (EPA-Yonhap)

The New York Times, citing senior U.S. officials, reported earlier this week that Obama would press Netanyahu to agree on a framework for a conclusive round of peace talks with the Palestinians that is being drafted by Secretary of State John Kerry.

But top-selling Israeli daily Yediot Aharonot said the worsening crisis in the Ukraine might have changed the White House’s plans.

“Contrary to reports that President Obama intends to engage directly in the negotiations, it seems that he is too busy with the crisis in Ukraine for that, and ... does not anticipate that such an effort ... has a very high chances of success,” it wrote.

Direct peace talks between Israelis and Palestinians, which began last July with the goal of reaching a deal within nine months, have made no visible progress.

Kerry is now focused on getting the two sides to agree on a framework proposal which would extend the deadline until the year’s end.

Although the document has not yet been made public, it is understood to be a non-binding proposal laying out guidelines for negotiating the central issues of the conflict, such as borders, security, Jerusalem, Israeli settlements and the fate of Palestinian refugees.

The proposal, or its outline, is likely to be presented to Netanyahu next week and to Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas on March 17 when he meets Obama at the White House.

The aim is reportedly to secure an agreement before the end of March, when Israel is due to release a fourth and final batch of 26 veteran Palestinian security prisoners in line with commitments to Washington.

Left-leaning Israeli daily Haaretz, citing Israeli officials who met counterparts in Washington on Friday, said they “sensed pessimism regarding the possibility of reaching an framework agreement by the end of March.”

While Kerry faces an uphill battle to win over a Palestinian leadership which has steadfastly refused any extension, following months of relentless Israeli settlement expansion, pundits said the prime minister was likely to agree, albeit with reservations.

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