Over a month after his aides floated the idea that Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu would deliver a major policy speech presenting a new Israeli diplomatic initiative, Netanyahu said on Monday he has not yet decided when to deliver the speech, or what to say in it.
Speaking in Jerusalem at a biannual luncheon with the ambassadors from EU countries posted in Israel, the prime minister – when asked about the speech and its content – said, “I have not decided what and when. But two questions needed to be answered: First, can we get back to direct negotiations with the Palestinians, and I am doubtful. And second, what can you do if there are no negotiations?”
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The “stumbling block” to movement in the diplomatic process was that the Palestinian Authority was working on the assumption that it didn’t need to negotiate, and that it had a “free pass” from the world not to negotiate, Netanyahu said.
“My speech would be easier if you can convince them to negotiate,” he said, calling on the EU countries to give the PA a clear message that it was time to return to negotiations.
Netanyahu did not address reports that three key members of the EU – Britain, France and Germany – wanted the Middle East Quartet to define at its next meeting the parameters of a future Israeli-Palestinian agreement as being two states along the 1967 lines, with agreed-upon land swaps.
He did say that moves such as these inadvertently damaged the diplomatic process because they created the impression among the Palestinian leadership that they could get what they wanted from the international community without negotiating with Israel.
While there was much expectation that the Quartet would meet in Berlin on Friday, that meeting – already postponed once – does not look as if it will take place. The US – which along with the EU, Russia and the UN makes up the Quartet – is reportedly uninterested in the meeting at this time, concerned that declaring parameters along the 1967 armistice lines would unnecessarily antagonize Israel and not necessarily bring the Palestinians back to the negotiating table.
The position of a number of key players in the EU has been, however, that this move would lure the Palestinians back to talks. There is also a feeling among some in the EU that if the Quartet declared these parameters now, the Palestinians might be dissuaded from pressing for recognition of a Palestinian state at the UN in September.
Netanyahu said that while some people believe the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was the key to stability in the region, “it is not true.”
It was important to solve the conflict, “to prevent the emergence of a binational state,” he said.
The EU’s ambassador to Israel, Andrew Standley, told Netanyahu that the EU was concerned by the lack of progress in the diplomatic process.
“We believe that the present [regional] context makes progress on the peace process all the more necessary, and we urge the parties concerned to take the steps needed to allow negotiations to be resumed.”
Standley also said the EU “fervently hopes that the relative calm that seems to have been restored” to Gaza in the past 24 hours could be maintained.
Regarding the Strip, Netanyahu said there had been “no agreement of any kind with Hamas,” and called upon the EU to continue adhering to the Quartet’s conditions that preclude contact with Hamas until that group forswears terrorism, recognizes Israel and accepts previous Palestinian-Israeli agreements.
Earlier in the day, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman spoke out against a ceasefire with Hamas.
“Hamas is fighting a war of attrition against us. We won’t come to terms with a situation in which they decide when there’s quiet and when the area heats up,” he said in an Israel Radio interview.
A cease-fire with Hamas ran contrary to Israel’s interests, an Hamas had taken advantage of the relative quiet since Operation Cast Lead “to gain power and turn a gang of terrorists into an organized army,” Lieberman said.
Turning to the region, Netanyahu – in his meeting with the EU diplomats – said he was “concerned” by some of the voices coming out of Egypt, “including the current Egyptian foreign minister.”
The foreign minister, Nabil al-Arabi, said last week that Israel could
no longer count on Egypt to provide it with cheap natural gas or
Regarding Iran, Netanyahu said the country had recently stepped up its
nuclear program as it appeared to sense a reduction in international
The Associated Press, meanwhile, reported that Iran’s Foreign Minister
Ali Akbar Salehi confirmed claims by an exiled Iranian opposition group
that a factory west of Tehran was manufacturing centrifuge parts.
Salehi claimed, however, that the facility was no secret and that many
other factories in the country were making components for Iran’s nuclear
According to AP, the opposition group, the Mujahedeen-e Khalq, announced
at a Washington press conference that the factory produced casings,
molecular pumps, tubes and bellows for the centrifuges.