When asked if he would be willing to remove settlements as part of the solution, Mr. Netanyahu answered that he saw no reason to volunteer concessions in advance of the talks.
Another top official said the Palestinians should not object to the construction of kindergartens or other new public buildings inside existing settlements because, in the end those buildings would go to the Palestinians.
“We are not going to destroy any infrastructure when there is a deal,” the official said, requesting anonymity because of the sensitivity of the topic. He added that Israel had taken a number of steps in the West Bank to help the Palestinians — removing roadblocks, encouraging the economy, helping the recent Fatah congress take place — but the Palestinians were stuck on a “no-brick policy” regarding settlements.
Mr. Erekat said the Palestinians did not want Israeli kindergartens; they wanted their land.
“I fear the Palestinians are going to miss a huge opportunity,” Mr. Barak said by telephone. “There is a president who says determinedly, ‘I am going to put my political capital into making sure there is an independent Palestinian state and solve all the core issues in two years.’ If we bear in mind Israel’s security needs and the demand that a final agreement means an end to the conflict, this is an opportunity that must not be missed.”
Mr. Barak said he would focus in Washington on maintaining Israel’s qualitative military edge, on Iran and on the Palestinians.Israel is in the process of developing a three-tiered missile defense system aimed at stopping short-, medium- and long-range missiles, some of it with American help. The system will require a couple of more years, according to most estimates. The next joint exercises with the United States are planned for next month.
In an interview last week with the Israeli newspaper Yediot Aharonot, Mr. Barak was quoted as saying that Iran does not pose an existential threat to Israel both because it does not yet have a nuclear weapon and because even if it developed one, Israel could protect itself.
The statement raised eyebrows in the United States because it seemed to suggest that Israel might be growing less concerned about Iranian nuclear weapons. But in his telephone interview, Mr. Barak said this was not the case. He simply wanted to urge his fellow citizens to refrain from panic over the Iranian program. Some Israeli leaders have compared the Iranian threat to that of the Nazis in the 1930s.
“I don’t buy the relevance of comparing the situation with that of Europe in 1938,” Mr. Barak said. “Then, the hope for a normal Jew looking into the future was to flee. We are not in such a situation. We can defend ourselves against any kind of threat.”
Mr. Barak said a key challenge for the United States now was how to handle the nuclear weapons of North Korea because that would greatly influence Iran.
“North Korea is developing long-range missiles in the backyard of China and Russia and nothing happens to them,” he said. “When the Iranian leadership asks themselves, ‘Should we be worried or just go through the ritual of defying and cheating?’ the answer depends on what happens to North Korea. A coherent move toward blocking nuclear proliferation should start with North Korea. It would have very positive ramifications for blocking Iran.”