'Direct talks depend on moratorium'

Mike Herzog: "Abbas will not come to talks without construction ban."

By HILARY LEILA KRIEGER
July 2, 2010 03:54
3 minute read.
Men building

Men building 311. (photo credit: Courtesy)

 
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WASHINGTON – The Palestinians will have to move to direct negotiations for Israel to extend its settlement moratorium, a top Israeli negotiator said ahead of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s White House meeting Monday.

“Without direct talks, there’s no way he can extend the moratorium,” Mike Herzog – who until recently served as Defense Minister Ehud Barak’s chief of staff, in which capacity he frequently consulted with Obama administration officials ahead of high-level visits – said of Netanyahu.

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Steven Hadley, the national security adviser in former president George W. Bush’s second term, also guessed that the issue of the moratorium would figure prominently in talks between Netanyahu and US President Barack Obama.

“My hunch is that Prime Minister Netanyahu is looking for an excuse to extend the construction ban, and I think direct talks is a good one,” Hadley said, appearing alongside Herzog at a Washington Institute for Near East Policy forum Thursday.

He added, “I also think he will not get to direct talks unless he extends the construction ban, because I don’t see how [Palestinian Authority] President [Mahmoud] Abbas comes into direct talks without it.”

Netanyahu came under heavy pressure from the Obama administration to freeze settlements last year, eventually agreeing to a partial moratorium for 10 months. The moratorium is set to expire in September, which is also the deadline the Arab League gave for supporting indirect talks between the parties.



While Israel has been pushing for direct talks for over a year, the Palestinians are demanding that Jerusalem deal with core issues like security and borders in the proximity talks – which began in May – before moving to face-to-face negotiations.

Both Herzog and Hadley predicted that difficulties between Israel and the US would arise in the fall given developments in these and other issues, but they said that in the short term, next week’s meeting would go well.

“I think both Israel and the US are determined to make this visit a success,” Herzog said.

Hadley agreed: “I think this meeting will restore and strengthen trust between Israel and the United States, both as two countries but also as two leaders.”

He said that after the recent “tensions” between the two countries, the US was trying to alleviate some of Israel’s sense of alienation, “particularly by speaking to Israel in the language of security.”

'If you want people to make hard decisions, you don’t put them in a corner'

In addition to repeatedly reaffirming the importance of the strategic relationship in public, the US administration recently announced new funding for missile defense.

Hadley added that it was important that Netanyahu know that America and its president were with him.

“If you want people to make hard decisions, you don’t put them in a corner,” he said. “You put your arm around them and say we will be with you and we will walk through this together.”

At the same time, he argued that this was a good time for “Israel to take the initiative,” particularly since a resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict would help end delegitimization of Israel.

Barak has also been urging Israel to bring its own diplomatic plan to the meeting.

Either way, the meeting is expected to go smoothly in part because some sources of friction have been alleviated for the moment, including the major issue of dealing with Iran.

Herzog: '
The issue of these sanctions is time-sensitive'

Though Israel was uncomfortable with the previous US policy of engagement, the current push on sanctions has met with Israeli approval.

Herzog, however, said that “the issue of these sanctions is time-sensitive.” He gave a window of six months to a year to see if they were effective.

He predicted that, absent a decision by Iran to rethink its policy, at that point there would be a debate about what to do.

In the meantime, he reminded the audience that “when Israel says all options are on the table, they mean it.” And he encouraged other countries to send the same message.

“If you want sanctions to have an impact, the Iranians need to know that there are worse options for them down the road if they don’t change,” he said.

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