MKs in the Land of Israel Caucus outdid one another in criticizing US positions on negotiations and on convicted Israeli spy Jonathan Pollard’s continued incarceration Tuesday, in a meeting with US Ambassador Dan Shapiro in the Knesset.
The lawmakers accused the US of being biased toward the Palestinians in negotiations.
“The American statement of principles cannot be seen as a neutral document that Israel can freely object to,” MK Reuven Rivlin (Likud Beytenu) said.
“The document creates a reality and puts pressure on Israel in the future, and objections won’t have any significance in the long term.”
Deputy Transportation Minister Tzipi Hotovely (Likud Beytenu) stressed that Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu was “acting in a political arena. Any framework agreement that talks about 1967 lines or that includes evacuating towns or giving up sovereignty in Judea, Samaria and Jerusalem can bring down the current government.”
According to Hotovely, there is no real possibility of bridging the differences between the Israeli and Palestinian positions.
“Our stances reflect the will of the people of Israel, and any attempt to force a diplomatic plan against the voters’ will harm Israeli democracy,” she said.
“We have the right to be here, and we want to reach understandings with the US, but we will stand up for our rights,” caucus co-chairman Yariv Levin (Likud Beytenu) said. “The US needs to rethink things. It looks like you want progress so badly that our joint values and alliance are being eroded.”
According to a source in the meeting, which was closed to press, Shapiro rejected claims the US was taking the Palestinians’ side and was hurting Israel.
“The US is taking part in the negotiations because Israel is our ally,” he stated. “A good peace treaty will protect Israel’s security and won’t hurt Israel.”
“Why should Israel trust [the US]?” MK David Rotem (Likud Beytenu) asked. “The US didn’t stand behind us in past crises.”
The ambassador also said that while he did not think this was the last opportunity for peace, the longer the sides waited, the more difficult it would be.
Knesset Finance Committee chairman Nissan Slomiansky (Bayit Yehudi) said, in reference to a comment by Secretary of State John Kerry, that talk by senior US officials about boycotts against Israel legitimizes them, an accusation that Shapiro deflected.
MKs saved their harshest language for discussion of the US’s refusal to release Pollard, who has been in prison for 29 years.
“It’s considered irresponsible to criticize the US publicly, but since this meeting was closed to press, people opened up and used words like ‘hostile’ and ‘alienating,’” a source in the discussion recounted. “The atmosphere was very charged.”
MK Moshe Feiglin (Likud Beytenu) said that he would not criticize the US with regard to talks with the Palestinians because the Israeli government recognized a Palestinian nation that had a right to a country, but that with regard to Pollard the US should be censured.
“Pollard is a consensus issue on the Right and Left. We all agree his treatment is an injustice,” Feiglin said. “Israel and the US are allies, but this stinks.
People who did much worse were already released.”
According to Rivlin, “not one American has served 30 years in prison because of something like this. If the Americans think 30 years is reasonable, well, in two months 30 years will have passed since his incarceration, and then he should be released and returned to his people and his land.”
MK Pnina Tamnu-Shata (Yesh Atid), the only MK not from Likud Beytenu or Bayit Yehudi in the meeting, made an impassioned plea for Pollard, saying his continued incarceration “belittles the humanity of the American public.” She said she could not understand how “[US President Barack] Obama, who promotes values of freedom and forgiveness, is so obtuse toward one lone man.”
Shapiro, however, said there was no consensus in the US about Pollard and that even if some former senior officials said he should be released, others disagreed.
“The US has rule of law, and the law says he should be in prison. Not even the president is above the law,” Shapiro said.
“Don’t give us unintelligent excuses. No one in Israel buys them,” said MK Orit Struck.
Following the meeting, the caucus sent Shapiro a thankyou note, reiterating that “our brother Jonathan must be freed.”
Soon after, Justice Minister Tzipi Livni called the MKs behavior “shameful.”
“Their lack of understanding and responsibility are hurting our relations with the superpower that is pivotal to Israel’s security,” Livni wrote on Facebook.
“Along the way, they also personally bashed Ambassador Dan Shapiro and again hit the wrong man… If the MKs have problems, they should talk to the decision-makers here in Israel.”