(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
The Security Cabinet on Wednesday convened for the final time before the Annapolis conference with heads of the security establishment saying that the chances of an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement even after the US-sponsored parley are slim.
Some ministers expressed concern that as a result of unsolvable disputes between the two sides, the US would force a joint statement to be made at the conference's conclusion, which would be problematic for Israel.
A harsh exchange of words erupted at the meeting between Defense Minister Ehud Barak and Vice Premier Haim Ramon over the track taken with the Palestinians ahead of the upcoming conference.
"Some people in Israel, and even some in the government, are raising Palestinian expectations and thus helping them accuse Israel of not budging from its position," Barak was quoted by Israel Radio as saying.
Israel must not be blamed for failure at Annapolis for not having made enough concessions, Barak said.
In response, Ramon said that if Israel offers the Palestinians "half of what we offered at Camp David [in 2000, with Barak as prime minister], but in a calculated and responsible way, we will come to the conference with an agreement on the core issues" already in hand.
Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) chief Yuval Diskin told the cabinet that Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas was "weak" and would find it difficult to implement an agreement. However, he stressed that if Israel did not act and just waited for a new partner, it would find itself with no partner at all.
Officials at the meeting said that Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, who is holding ongoing talks with the Palestinian negotiating team, looked "troubled," Army Radio reported.
Meanwhile, opposition leader Binyamin Netanyahu blasted the government for what he called "a virtual peace process."
"There is no real partner for peace. The Palestinians have a very weak government," he told Army Radio, adding that unilateral moves being made by Israel "do not strengthen security but according to every security official opposed to these moves, they endanger the security of Israel's citizens and soldiers. We have already paid a price for this process and we must stop it."
Meanwhile, Abbas said that the two sides were close to drafting a joint statement but that last-minute hardships were not unexpected.
Israel Radio further reported that US President George W. Bush spoke with Abbas on the phone and repeated his commitment to the two-state vision.
In related news, Egypt announced that its envoy to Annapolis would be Minister of Foreign Affairs Ahmed Aboul-Gheit.
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