The Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he will make a key speech laying out his cabinet's policies on peace and security next week. "Next week I will make a key diplomatic speech where I will present before the citizens of Israel our principles for reaching peace and security," Mr Netanyahu said at the weekly cabinet meeting. It was not immediately clear when he would deliver his address and offered no hint of what he might say.
Mr Netanyahu's comments were his first since US President Barack Obama's speech to the Muslim world on Thursday, in which he reiterated Washington's "unbreakable" bond with Israel, but vowed not to turn his back on Palestinian aspirations and repeated his call for a halt to settlements. "It must be understood, we seek peace with the Palestinians and with the states of the Arab world while trying to reach as much understanding as possible with the United States and our friends abroad," Mr Netanyahu said. "My desire is to achieve a stable peace that rests on solid foundations of security for the state of Israel and its citizens."
Mr Netanyahu has publicly declared his commitment to peace before but has offered few details about how he hopes to achieve an agreement with the Palestinians without ceding control of most of the West Bank and east Jerusalem, captured in the 1967 Mideast war. The Palestinians want those lands and the Gaza Strip for their future state, and say they will not renew peace talks until Israel agrees to freeze settlement construction and negotiate Palestinian statehood.
Israeli construction in the West Bank has long tormented peacemaking, because it is seen by the international community as a way of cementing control over areas claimed by the Palestinians. Since entering office in January, Mr Obama has taken up the issue head on. His administration hopes that halting settlement expansion would embolden the Arab world to make overtures toward Israel and improve US relations with the Muslim world.
But his adamant and repeated pronouncement of them in high-profile appearances has generated much consternation and edginess in Israel, which had enjoyed almost unwavering support from Washington during Mr Bush's eight-year tenure. Mr Netanyahu would have a tough time ordering a construction freeze regarding the settlements because his coalition is committed to an Israeli presence on West Bank land and could fracture over any US-driven attempts to limit it.
He and his coalition partners demand the right to continue building to account for the ill-defined "natural growth" of the existing settler population. Since Israel signed its first accord with the Palestinians in 1993, the West Bank settler population has more than doubled to nearly 300,000. An additional 180,000 Jews live in neighbourhoods in east Jerusalem, the sector of the city that Israel captured in the 1967 Mideast war and which Palestinians claim as capital of their hoped-for state.
Mr Obama plans to dispatch his special Mideast envoy, George Mitchell, to the region this week to try to break the impasse and get Israelis and Palestinians talking peace again. Mr Mitchell has long seen a settlement freeze as intrinsic to progress on peacemaking. * Agencies