Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who departed Israel on Sunday for a six-day visit to the United States, told several ministers with whom he met over the past few days that the issue of freezing settlement construction in Judea and Samaria will not be discussed during the trip.
The comment followed several reports in the American media, suggesting that Washington plans to demand a construction freeze in the areas outside the main settlement blocs in Judea and Samaria, to facilitate its parallel demand of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to extend the peace talks by one year. The original nine-month window allotted for the current negotiations ends in April.
"I am now leaving on an important trip to the U.S. where I will meet with President Barack Obama," Netanyahu said on Sunday before taking off from Ben-Gurion International Airport. "We will discuss the Iranian issue and the diplomatic process [with the Palestinians]. I will stand steadfast on the State of Israel's vital interests, especially the security of Israel's citizens. In recent years, the State of Israel has been under various pressures. We have rejected them in the face of the unprecedented storm and unrest in the region and are maintaining stability and security. This is what has been and what will be."
Netanyahu is scheduled to meet Obama in Washington on Monday.
Netanyahu is expected to urge Obama to demand that any future nuclear deal reached with Iran entail a "zero enrichment" policy, to ensure Iran will be unable to pursue the development of a nuclear bomb.
CBS News reported on Saturday that the U.S. has put pressure on Israel to stop carrying out assassinations inside Iran. The Mossad has allegedly been responsible for a number of assassinations of Iranian nuclear scientists in recent years, as part of an effort to thwart Iran's nuclear plans. According to the report, Netanyahu has ordered the Mossad to focus on hunting for evidence that Iran is cheating on the commitments it made in the interim nuclear deal signed in Geneva last November.
At their meeting on Monday, Netanyahu and Obama will discuss the framework peace proposal that the U.S. is formulating that would allow the ongoing negotiations with the Palestinians to continue to the start of 2015.
While in the U.S., Netanyahu will also meet with congressional leaders, as well as other senior American officials.
The annual American Israel Public Affairs Committee conference, which Netanyahu will address on Tuesday, begins on Sunday in Washington. Justice Minister Tzipi Livni (Hatnuah) and Opposition Leader MK Isaac Herzog (Labor) will also deliver speeches at the conference. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry will address AIPAC on Monday.
Herzog met with Kerry and U.S. National Security Adviser Susan Rice on Saturday and urged them not to be concerned by criticism from right-wing Likud and Habayit Hayehudi politicians regarding the peace talks with the Palestinians, saying that such criticism was not representative of the atmosphere on the streets of Israel.
Netanyahu will meet with the heads of Apple and WhatsApp in Silicon Valley on Wednesday, and will meet with the heads of the Jewish community in Los Angeles on Thursday. The prime minister is expected to return to Israel on Friday morning.
The prime minister's wife, Sara Netanyahu, is scheduled to meet with Jill Biden, wife of U.S. Vice President Joe Biden, on Monday. The two will meet at an event hosted by Rhoda Dermer, wife of Israeli Ambassador to the U.S. Ron Dermer, to which 25 women serving in positions of power in Washington have also been invited.
Intelligence, Strategic Affairs, and International Relations Minister Yuval Steinitz (Likud), Culture and Sport Minister Limor Livnat (Likud), Tourism Minister Uzi Landau (Yisrael Beytenu) and Deputy Foreign Minister Zeev Elkin (Likud) will be accompanying the prime minister during his visit to the United States and will meet with various officials.