WASHINGTON (JTA) — Shaul Mofaz, Israel’s new deputy prime minister, told President Obama that the new national unity government presents a window of opportunity to restart peace talks with the Palestinians.
Mofaz, the Kadima leader who is in Washington this week for his first round of meetings since joining his party to the government, had a surprise meeting Thursday with the U.S. president when Obama interrupted a scheduled meeting with Tom Donilon, the national security adviser.
At a news conference for Hebrew-speaking reporters, Mofaz said he briefed Obama on Israel’s new coalition and that with support from Kadima, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is in a stronger position to make compromises for peace. He told the president that the Israeli and Palestinian sides should reconvene soon, and without preconditions.
"We could have a year of negotiations before we get into the Israeli elections," Mofaz said at the news conference in Hebrew. The elections are scheduled for late 2013.
Since 2010 the Palestinian Authority has resisted restarting talks unless Israel freezes settlement building.
Mofaz said he told Obama that his sense was that talks by the major powers with Iran on ending its suspected nuclear weapons program have failed and that it was time to advance to sanctions on Iran’s oil and financial sectors.
The European Union is scheduled to kick in such sanctions next month.
Mofaz said he told Obama that the United States and the western powers also should prepare for other options to deal with Iran, including military options.
In his 35-minute chat, Mofaz said he and Obama also discussed his hopes for bettering relations with Turkey as well as the intensifying crisis in Syria, where the Assad regime is reported to have slaughtered thousands of its citizens.