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Netanyahu will fly to Rome to head off criticism

The Israeli PM to meet Kerry and Mogherini to fight pressure over settlement growth on occupied Palestine.

Benjamin Netanyahu

Fast Facts
  • Netanyahu to meet John Kerry and Federica Mogherini in Rome
  • The Middle East Quartet report expected to strongly criticise Israel
  • Palestinian leader appeals to the EU for support against Israeli occupation

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is set to fly to Rome for three days of intense diplomacy as the the Middle East Quartet is expected to use strong language against his settlements policy in a forthcoming report.

Netanyahu will fly to the capital of Italy on Sunday to meet with US Secretary of State John Kerry and the European Union's foreign policy chief, Federica Mogherini.

The Middle East Quartet, a mediation group made up of the US, EU, UN and Russia, is expected to use unusually tough language in criticising Israel's expansion of settlements on occupied land that the Palestinians seek for an independent state.

It is unclear whether the wording may be softened before the report is issued, probably next week, although its publication has already been delayed several times.

"As it stands, the language is strong and Israel isn't going to like it," said one diplomat briefed on the content. "But it's also not saying that much that hasn't been said before - that settlements are a serious obstacle to peace."

On Thursday, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas appealed to the EU for help to end Israel's occupation of Palestinian territories and support for a lasting peace agreement.

"You are our friends, help us," Abbas told EU politicians in Brussels. "Israel has turned our country into an open-air prison.

"Why is international law not being applied in the case of Israel?" he said to applause.

Defence agreement

Netanyahu is expected to talk to Kerry about a series of other issues, including how to conclude drawn-out negotiations with Washington on a new 10-year defence agreement.

There is also the looming issue of a peace conference organised by the French that is supposed to convene in the autumn, although it may no longer take place in Paris.

Israeli officials oppose the initiative, seeing it as sidestepping the need for Israel and the Palestinians to sit down and negotiate directly. They argue that it provides the Palestinians with a chance to internationalise the conflict rather than dealing with it on the ground.

Israelis are also concerned that the conference may end up fixing a timeframe for an agreement on ending Israel's 49-year-old occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem and reaching a two-state solution with the Palestinians.

If that does not emerge from the French plan, it remains possible that a resolution along similar lines could be presented to the United Nations Security Council before the end of the year.

Netanyahu is expected to discuss the issue with UN chief Ban Ki-moon on Tuesday in Jerusalem.

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