In a direct challenge to President Barack Obama's commitment to rejuvenate moribund Mideast peace talks, Israel on Thursday dismissed American-led efforts to establish a Palestinian state and laid out new conditions for renewed negotiations.
Leaders of Israel's hawkish new government told former Maine Sen. George Mitchell, the special U.S. envoy, that they aren't going to rush into peace talks with their Palestinian neighbors.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that he'd require Palestinians to accept Israel as a Jewish state in any future negotiations — a demand that Palestinians have up to now rejected — Israeli government officials said.
Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman told Obama's envoy that past Israeli concessions led to war, not peace.
Netanyahu has refused to embrace that formula and has instead floated the idea of offering Palestinians limited rights that would fall short of independence.
Netanyahu reiterated his stand in his meeting with Mitchell, said one Israeli government official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he wasn't authorized to publicly discuss the details of the conversation.
Netanyahu also indicated that Palestinians would have to accept Israel as a Jewish state in negotiations.
"For us, this is a crucial element," the official said. "It's a fundamental element in peace talks."
Special Envoy George Mitchell reiterated the position of the Obama administration though:
Mitchell struck a firm tone on Friday, after his meeting with Abbas. He said establishing a Palestinian state alongside Israel is a national interest of the U.S., not only of the people in the Middle East.
He said the Arab peace initiative, which offers Israel full recognition by the Arab world in exchange for full withdrawal from occupied territories, should be part of future peace efforts. "This conflict has gone on for far too long, and the people of this region should no longer have to wait for the just peace that guarantees security for all," Mitchell said. "The U.S. is committed to the establishment of a sovereign, independent Palestinian state, where the aspirations of the Palestinian people to control their own destiny are realized," he said. "We want the Arab peace initiative to be a part of the effort to reach this goal. A comprehensive peace in this region is in the national interest of the United States. It is in the interest of the Palestinian people, it is in the interest of the people of Israel and of the entire region. A two-state solution is the only solution," he said.
No mention of a linkage between the settlements and the issue of Iran's nuclear program though, a tactic that the Obama administration is still working out it would seem.