Barak cabinet 298.88.
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Defense Minister Ehud Barak on Sunday dismissed recent reports of an imminent deal for the release of captured IDF soldier Gilad Schalit.
"There isn't a day that goes by on which we don't think about Gilad Schalit," he said prior to the weekly cabinet meeting. "But the reports that have been published aren't true and could even be damaging.
"The less we talk and the more we focus on action the better," continued the defense minister.
Speaking ahead of his trip to the US where he is due to hold talks with Mideast envoy George Mitchell that are expected to focus on settlement activity, Barak said the issue was still being discussed, refusing to confirm a Yediot Aharonot report that he would promise the Americans a three-month settlement freeze, including on natural growth.
"The ties and understandings with the US are very important to Israel," he said. "My visit this week in New York is a follow up to meetings between myself and [Prime Minister Binyamin] Netanyahu with the US administration, and both [US President Barak] Obama's and Netanyahu's speeches."
"We fully support the initiative for a regional agreement, which includes a need to enter into negotiations with the Palestinians," he stressed. "But the issue that has hit the headlines today has not fully been agreed upon, even amongst ourselves, although of course the settlement issue, along with a wide range of issues, is part of our discourse with the Americans."
The Yediot Aharonot report enraged some cabinet ministers.
"If someone has such an idea, it would be best if he shelves it," said Environment Minister Gilad Erdan of the Likud before the cabinet meeting. "Such a plan will never pass."
Interior Minister Eli Yishai said, "If there is such a plan, it cannot be implemented - but it wouldn't be the first time Barak has come up with such statements."
But Avishai Braverman, minister without portfolio for minorities, said that "the most important thing is that we reach understandings with the Americans. That means that some of the settlements will be removed and some will remain."
In related news, Kadima MK Nachman Shai on Sunday claimed Barak was visiting Washington to discuss an Egyptian initiative to thaw relations between Hamas and the Palestinian Authority, and slammed Netanyahu for legitimizing the Hamas government.
"In contrast to his pre-election promises, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu is working assiduously to legitimize the rule of Hamas in Gaza, a terror organization for which the destruction of Israel is a top priority," a statement on Shai's Web site said.
"In an agreement being concocted back stage away from the public eye, the government is joining the Egyptian initiative to thaw relations between Hamas and the Palestinian Authority. This will effectively legitimize the rule of Hamas in the Gaza Strip. This is why Defense Minister Ehud Barak was dispatched to Washington in such a hurry," the statement said.
"Thus, against his previous statements and campaign promises, the prime minister is making Hamas an empowered partner in the Palestinian Authority, while Hamas has not changed even a single letter in its political charter," which calls for Israel's destruction, the statement concluded.