Netanyahu Meeting Called Off with US Mideast Envoy

PARIS (AP) - Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's meeting
in Paris with the top U.S. Mideast envoy has been called off in an
apparent sign of growing friction over President Barack Obama's
call for a halt to construction in Jewish settlements.

The U.S. position could spell political trouble for Netanyahu,
whose government depends on patrons of the settlers.

Netanyahu said Wednesday, after meeting the leaders of France
and Italy, that his bid for a demilitarized Palestinian state is
gaining international ground.

But French President Nicolas Sarkozy, like Obama, insisted on a
complete and immediate end to construction in Jewish settlements
and Netanyahu backed out of a potentially uncomfortable meeting in
Paris with Washington's Mideast envoy, seeking more time to try and
sidestep a confrontation with Washington.

A statement from Netanyahu's office said the meeting with George
Mitchell, which had been scheduled to take place in Paris on
Thursday, would be put off while Israeli Defense Minster Ehud Barak
meets Mitchell in Washington next week and tries to bridge the
gaps.

While the statement spoke only of the need to "clarify"
unspecified issues, an aide traveling with Netanyahu said
settlement was "one of the issues which needs to be worked on at
the professional level."

As defense minister, Barak has intimate knowledge of settlements
in the West Bank which are maintained under the watch of the
Israeli military.

Netanyahu says he will not allow construction of new settlements
nor allow existing enclaves to expand beyond their current
boundaries but he is not prepared to stop building within existing
communities.

The U.S. and France insist on an immediate and total halt to all
forms of settlement construction.

Netanyahu has not said what solution he sees that will satisfy
Washington without prompting rebellion from his right-wing
political partners and the settlers who make up a major part of
their supporters, but he says a compromise can be found.

"Can we reach agreement on the settlement issue? Yes, if there
is a will," he told reporters in Rome Tuesday after meeting
Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi.

The Italian leader gave Netanyahu a warm reception at the start
of his first trip to Europe since taking office in March, endorsing
his plan for a future demilitarized Palestinian state that
recognizes Israel as a "Jewish state."

That means that Palestinians must give up any notion of refugees
who left what is now Israel - or their millions of descendants -
resettling in their former homes.

But he was restrained on settlement, saying only that Israel
needed "to send signals" on stopping.

While Sarkozy took the harder line shared by Washington,
Netanyahu said the French leader shared his view that for Israel to
recognize Palestinian statehood, the Palestinians must also
recognize Israel as the national homeland for the Jews and end once
and for all their armed conflict with the Jewish state.

Speaking to reporters in Paris Wednesday, Netanyahu said that
was a view that was gaining ground in the international community
and its acceptance was a prerequisite for peace.

"The idea of a demilitarized (Palestinian) state will in course
become accepted. If it is not accepted, there will not be an
agreement," he said. "It cannot be that there is a Palestinian
state and the struggle will continue within it."

Sarkozy agreed that a "future Palestinian state cannot in any
way constitute a threat to the security of Israel."

The French president, who defines himself as a friend of Israel
but whose country has traditionally good relations with much of the
Arab world, urged faster action toward creating a Palestinian
state.

Sarkozy, meanwhile, offered to send international peacekeepers
to secure a Mideast peace deal. But Netanyahu brushed off the
offer. "We're not looking for an international force," he said,
adding that the only place such a force could have a role is on the
Gaza-Egypt border.

On Thursday, Netanyahu meets French Prime Minister Prime
Minister Francois Fillon and Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner then
flies home.


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