Inner cabinet shows support for Quartet talks formula

Netanyahu convenes inner cabinet of 8 ministers for 5-hour meeting to discuss proposal for restarting negotiations with Palestinians.

By JPOST.COM STAFF,
September 28, 2011 01:57
3 minute read.
Members of the Middle East Quartet

quartet REUTERS 311. (photo credit: REUTERS)

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu convened the inner cabinet of eight ministers on Tuesday evening to discuss the Quartet’s proposal for restarting negotiations with the Palestinians, amid wide expectations that Israel would formally accept the proposal.

After a five-hour long meeting the ministers said that they supported the proposal but did not come to an official conclusion that it would be approved.

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Netanyahu said over the weekend in New York that he viewed the Quartet proposal favorably, but would wait to issue a formal response until he met with his senior ministers.

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Even Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, representing the right flank in the inner cabinet, said this week that while he had reservations about the Quartet statement, “the fact that it calls for negotiations without preconditions is a great achievement for Israel.”

Following Netanyahu and PA President Mahmoud Abbas’s speeches to the UN on Friday, during which Abbas said he was filing a request to the Security Council for full UN membership for “Palestine,” the Quartet issued a formula for renewing talks.

The statement urged the parties “to overcome the current obstacles and resume direct bilateral Israeli-Palestinian negotiations without delay or preconditions.” It proposed a “preparatory meeting” between the parties within a month to agree to an agenda and “method of proceeding in the negotiation,” and suggested that the two sides commit to the objective of reaching an agreement “within a time frame agreed to by the parties but not longer than the end of 2012.”

The statement also said the expectation is that the parties will come up with a comprehensive proposal on territory and security within three months, and to have made “substantial progress” within six months. To facilitate this, an international conference will be held in Moscow “at the appropriate time.”

Government sources said Netanyahu was convening his senior ministers to discuss the proposal soon after his return from New York on Monday, because there was a “diplomatic benefit” to being the first to respond positively, and thereby placing the onus on the other side.

Netanyahu has in the past objected to the idea – as presented in the Quartet proposal – of isolating security and territories from the other core issues of Jerusalem and refugees, saying that if an agreement on the territorial issue was reached, the Palestinians would have no incentive to compromise later on the issues of refugees and Jerusalem. Rather, his position in the past was that all issues should be discussed simultaneously.

Asked in Tuesday’s Rosh Hashana interview with The Jerusalem Post whether his initial positive response to the Quartet formula represented a change in his position, the prime minister replied, “This isn’t an attempt to isolate those two issues. For us, security is intertwined with the end of the conflict, with the recognition of Israel as a Jewish state, and obviously with other issues of territories, boundaries and so forth. There are many ways to approach this, but at the end of the day you are going to have to have a comprehensive solution to this problem, because it is a comprehensive problem.”

Netanyahu said there was a long-standing agreement in the negotiation process that “nothing is agreed until everything is agreed,” and he didn’t see that principle changing.

The Palestinians have not yet formally responded to the Quartet formula, but in contrast to Israel, their initial responses were negative because the formula said nothing explicitly about a settlement construction freeze, or about starting the negotiations with the pre-1967 lines as the baseline for the talks.

In addition to Netanyahu and Lieberman, the other members of the inner cabinet are Defense Minister Ehud Barak, Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz, Interior Minister Eli Yishai, Strategic Affairs Minister Moshe Ya’alon, Intelligence Agencies Minister Dan Meridor and Minister-without-Portfolio Bennie Begin.


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