Bayit Yehudi’s reaction in the Knesset last week to European Parliament President Martin Schulz’s speech and comments about Israel’s water allocations to the Palestinians was “unfortunate and disproportionate,” Intelligence Minister Yuval Steinitz said Saturday.
Steinitz, who two weeks ago termed US Secretary of State John Kerry’s comments about the possibility of boycotts against Israel if the current talks with the Palestinians fail as “offensive, unreasonable and unacceptable,” characterized Schulz’s Knesset performance as a “tragicomedy.”
“There are disagreements with Schulz, even though he came here with much good will. [He] is considered a great friend of Israel in Europe, and was one of the prominent spokesmen against a boycott of Israel,” Steinitz said at a Shabbat program at Tel Aviv’s Habima Theater. “Alongside a speech with many pro-Israeli parts, he had a small slip regarding facts and figures, but the response of the Knesset members and ministers who left was unfortunate and disproportionate.”
Schulz, addressing the Knesset Wednesday, repeated a Palestinian propaganda claim as fact: that Israel provides its citizens with 70 liters of water per day, and the Palestinians only 17. This led to an angry reaction from Economy Minister Naftali Bennett, who led his party’s Knesset members in a demonstrative walkout from the plenum.
Regarding Kerry’s boycott comments, Steinitz said they were interpreted here as a threat even though the secretary of state is a “friend of Israel.”
As to the document that Kerry is expected to present in the coming weeks to form a basis for continued Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, Steinitz said this will be a paper spelling out America’s position, with each side presenting their reservations.
“We will not agree to the division of Jerusalem and giving up the Jordan Valley,” he said.
He added that Israel would move back into the Gaza Strip if there is “no other choice” to stop attacks from there, just as it moved back into cities in the Palestinian Authority in 2002 to stop the suicide bombings during the second intifada.
Asked how he viewed the prospects of a deal emerging from Kerry’s efforts, Steinitz said that he was skeptical because of past experiences.
He said that last week Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas sounded as if he wanted to torpedo the talks by saying that the Palestinians would not recognize Israel as the nation state of the Jewish people.
“Just as we are not willing to reconcile ourselves with Holocaust denial, it is also forbidden for us to reconcile ourselves with the denial of Jewish history or the denial of the right of the Jewish people to a state of its own. All peace begins with mutual recognition,” he said, adding that true peace does not come from an agreement, but from mutual recognition – something the Palestinians were refusing to do.
Deputy Minister Ophir Akunis, meanwhile, said at a Shabbat cultural event in Ramat Gan that Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and US President Barack Obama were likely to agree at their upcoming meeting in Washington on March 3 to extend the negotiations with the Palestinians by another year.
Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman, in a Channel 2 interview Friday night, related to the diplomatic process with the Palestinians, saying, “We will not compromise on the issue of security, recognition of Israel as a Jewish state, and [denying] the right of return. The rest depends on the other side.”
Asked about the growing impression that he has moderated his once hard-line positions, the Yisrael Beytenu chief said that he has not changed, all that has changed is the media’s perception of him.
“Turnaround?” Liberman said.
“Depends which one. I think the turnaround has taken place within the press, not with Avigdor Liberman.
Whoever adheres to the facts can examine what I’ve said in the past and compare it to what I’ve said recently. I haven’t discovered anything new.”
“At my advanced age, perhaps the tone has changed somewhat,” he added. “I no longer have the same energy that I used to when I was younger, but the essence is the same essence. I’ve always had excellent relations with the United States, even in the previous term when Kerry was in the Senate.”
Despite these comments, Liberman was largely boxed out of the relationship with Washington during his previous term as foreign minister, when then defense minister Ehud Barak was largely in charge of ties with Washington and then US secretary of state Hillary Clinton.
Asked if his relative moderation had anything to do with his wish to one day ascend to the premiership, Liberman replied, “I read a lot of rumors and speculation in the press, some of them are sheer science fiction and most of it is just detached from reality. At the moment, my wish is to be the best foreign minister I could be. If [Yisrael Beytenu] wins enough Knesset seats, everything is wide open.”
“I’ve never ruled out anything and I don’t have an obsession over anything,” Liberman said. “Being prime minister is an option, but I don’t obsess over it. I wasn’t born a member of Knesset or a minister, so I take everything in the right proportion.”
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Jerusalem Post staff contributed to this report.