Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has snubbed International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) chief Yukiya Amano, who is on his first visit to Israel, the Haaretz daily reported yesterday.
Amano had requested to meet with Netanyahu months ago, but the scheduled meeting was abruptly cancelled last week as the prime minister planned to go on holiday, the paper said.
It said the meeting had been due to take place on Monday afternoon, shortly after the IAEA chief landed in Israel and a few hours before Netanyahu was due to start his holiday.
Asked about the report, a senior official who asked not to be named said he was “not aware that that is true.”
The visit comes against a backdrop of demands by some members of the IAEA that Israel, generally considered to be the Middle East’s sole if undeclared nuclear-armed power, sign up to the international Non-Proliferation Treaty.
Israeli President Shimon Peres, considered to be the father of Israel’s nuclear program, was scheduled to meet Amano in Jerusalem today.
Israel was sure to raise with Amano its concerns about Iran’s nuclear program, which the Jewish state, the US and other Western countries believe is ultimately aimed at producing an atomic bomb.
Ties between the IAEA and Israel were chilly during the tenure of Amano’s predecessor, Mohamed ElBaradei.
Meanwhile, the Israeli government is fiercely debating a key concession in the next round of peace talks with the Palestinians: whether to extend a slowdown of West Bank settlement construction.
Israeli officials confirmed on Monday that the government was in quiet talks with the US in search of a “creative” solution that will allow at least some limited construction to take place after Israel’s 10-month moratorium ends on Sept. 26.
Caving in to US and Palestinian pressure to extend the freeze could bring down the conservative Israeli governing coalition. But resuming settlement construction could spell disaster for the fledgling peace talks.
“Many options are being discussed. It’s not that simple,” Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor said.
Palestinian officials said Monday that Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas had sent a letter to the US threatening to withdraw from the negotiations, which are set to begin next week in Washington, if the settlement freeze ends.
US State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said Washington understands the issue’s importance and will make sure it is discussed at the start of negotiations.
“We are very mindful of the Palestinian position, and once we are into direct negotiations we expect that both parties will do everything within their power to create an environment for those negotiations to continue constructively,” he said.
Israel and the Palestinians appear to be jostling for position before the formal launch of negotiations next Wednesday at the White House.
The roughly 120 Jewish settlements that dot the West Bank have long been a sore point in Middle East peacemaking. Israel began settling the territory soon after capturing it along with Gaza and east Jerusalem in the 1967 war.
Dan Meridor, one of the more moderate members of the Cabinet, told Israel TV on Monday that he believes construction should resume only in areas that are sure to remain under Israeli control in a peace deal.
“There is no logic in building in territory intended for the Palestinian state,” he said. “By the same reason, there is no logic not to build in territories that will be inside Israel.”