Despite a lack of any concrete indications that Palestinian Authority President
Mahmoud Abbas intends to engage directly with Israel, Prime Minister Binyamin
Netanyahu said Sunday there was a “reasonable chance” that direct talks would
begin this month.
Netanyahu’s comments came in a session with Likud
ministers that preceded the weekly cabinet meeting.
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At the cabinet
meeting, the prime minister said that discussions he has held in recent weeks
with US, European and Arab leaders, specifically Egypt’s President Hosni Mubarak
and Jordan’s King Abdullah II, “created a better international climate for the
start of direct talks.
“I think that the international community, at
least an important part of it, and certainly the US, expects the Palestinian
Authority to put aside the claims, excuses and conditions – and enter into peace
talks, not just to hold peace talks, but in order to achieve a peace settlement
based on security,” Netanyahu said.
Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon
told The Jerusalem Post Sunday that while there were no concrete indications
from the PA of a readiness to enter talks, they were well aware of the
expectations of the international community, specifically the US and the
The Prime Minister’s Office, meanwhile, unequivocally denied reports
that Netanyahu assured US President Barack Obama that he would support an
agreement based on the pre- 1967 lines, with minor territorial
Abbas also reportedly told Arab League foreign ministers
that Obama assured him that if he went into direct talks, Washington would work
toward an extension of the settlement construction moratorium, that would also
include new building in east Jerusalem.
Ayalon said that Netanyahu made
no commitments to the Americans regarding direct talks. He also said that a
continuation of the settlement freeze was unacceptable.
With that, Ayalon
made clear that there was unlikely to be a massive building boom once the
settlement construction moratorium expired, but rather that construction would
be aimed at ensuring the continuation of “normal life” in the settlements, and
that “political, security and foreign affairs” would be factored in when
deciding where and when to build.
He said that a “responsible government”
will have to take into account all the relevant considerations when deciding on
building after the moratorium expires.
While the PA has made clear that
it wanted borders to be the immediate focus of direct talks, Netanyahu in the
cabinet said the emphasis needed to be on security.
“While it is not
sufficient in itself, security is a fundamental condition and a necessary
condition for achieving peace and there will be no compromise in its regard by
the State of Israel,” Netanyahu said.
In recent weeks, there have been
three major security-related points that have been focused on inside the Prime
Minister’s Office in preparation for the restarting of direct talks.
first point is to keep a future Palestinian state in the West Bank from becoming
a terrorist base, and ensuring that missiles and rockets cannot be smuggled into
there as they are smuggled into Gaza and southern Lebanon.
point is a reevaluation of threats Israel may face from the eastern front in the
While the US invasion of Iraq led to a feeling for a number
of years that Israel did not have to worry about an imminent threat from the
east, the US desire to withdraw troops from Iraq has led to increased fear that
– once again – Israel needed to be on real guard against an assault from that
direction. This has revised talk of the need for early warning stations in the
Jordan Valley, an idea that was rarely discussed over the last few
The third point being raised inside the Prime Minister’s Office
regarding security is the fact that all agreements are reversible, and that
Israel needed to ensure – through the military demilitarization of a future
Palestinian state – that even if there were regime change inside a Palestinian
state, a new, more radical government could not pose a threat to Israel’s
Iran, and – to a much lesser degree – Turkey are being held up
as examples of how once friendly regimes were replaced with other regimes that
dramatically changed their countries’ relations with Israel. If it could happen
with those countries, the argument runs, it could happen in a future Palestinian
state, and Israel needed to protect itself against such an
Government officials said that once direct talks began,
Netanyahu did not want to see them “atomized” into numerous subcommittees, but
rather wanted the core issues to be tackled by him and Abbas.
core issues were interconnected, he has said in internal discussions, and one
can’t talk about borders without also first addressing what type of security
arrangements will be in place on the other side of the border.