Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu agreed to a package of concessions and gestures toward the Obama Administration and the Palestinians at the weekend in an effort to ease US-Israel tensions ahead of his trip to Washington Sunday night.
According to the Prime Minister's Office, Netanyahu spoke to US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton late Thursday and agreed to the following:
- all core issues, including control of Jerusalem, will now be on the table in upcoming indirect US-brokered peace talks with the Palestinians (Israel had previously insisted that such issues be reserved for final status talks, if they were ever reached);
- Israel will significantly slow the pace of Jewish construction in neighborhoods on the eastern side of Jerusalem;
- Israel will set free hundreds of jailed Palestinian terrorists affiliated with Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas; and
- Israel will ease its blockade on the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip and allow the entry of building materials that Jerusalem had previously warned Hamas could make military use of.
Netanyahu is traveling to Washington to attend the annual AIPAC conference, and his office had hoped to set up a meeting with US President Barack Obama while he is there. But with relations between the two leaders becoming severely strained last week after Israel announced the building of 1,600 new Jewish apartments in an area of Jerusalem claimed by the Palestinians, such a meeting was unlikely.
In the aftermath of Israel announcing the new building project while US Vice President Joe Biden was visiting the Israeli capital, Clinton led what many saw as a disproportionate pressure campaign against Israel that saw the use of hostile rhetoric not common to the US-Israel relationship.
Speaking to reporters in Moscow on Saturday, Clinton nearly boasted that the intense pressure she had applied to Netanyahu had clearly paid off.
The Times of London reported that Netanyahu's capitulation also likely had much to do with Obama's sudden diversion of a shipment of advanced bunker-buster bombs to Israel. According to the report, 387 of the bombs were en route to Israel last week, when the White House decided to send them to a holding facility in the Indian Ocean instead.
The move was seen as punishment for Israel daring to throw its position on Jerusalem in Washington's face while Biden was visiting.
Netanyahu reportedly plans to press Obama to release the bomb shipment, which experts say is crucial should Israel decided to bomb Iran's nuclear facilities.
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