Sheikh Naim Kassem.
(photo credit: AP)
Vice Premier and Regional Development Minister Silvan Shalom lashed out at the Palestinian Authority on Thursday for not accepting Israel's offer to resume talks unconditionally.
At a press conference for foreign journalists organized by The Israel Project in Tel Aviv, Shalom said Israel wants peace not only with the Palestinians but also with Syria, Lebanon and the rest of the Arab and Muslim world.
"But as the saying goes, it takes two to tango and, unfortunately, the Palestinians are as of yet unwilling to engage with Israel," Shalom said.
He surmised that the Palestinians were hesitant to enter a dialogue with Israel despite Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu's standing invitation to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, because they were afraid they'd be forced to make compromises.
"If you'd like to find out if Israel is really willing to move towards peace, you should come to find out, put all the core issues on the table and find out if Israel is really committed or if it's only slogans," he said.
Shalom went on to lament the rise of Hamas in Gaza and described the current situation as much worse than four years ago, when the then-Likud government made the decision to disengage from Gaza.
"We thought we could move towards peace, we thought it would help the Palestinians rebuild their economy and we were even planning how to do it, with the Palestinians, with the international community, but the outcome was, of course, very negative," he said.
Shalom spoke about the cold peace that exists between Israel and the Arab world, saying that most of the blame was with the Arab countries, but that he was willing to accept some blame for not succeeding in lifting all the bureaucratic and security related obstacles that stood in the way.
"I believe that now that we came to power and established the new ministry for regional cooperation, it will lead to positive outcomes," he said.
Shalom said his office was currently focusing its efforts on projects like a new industrial zone in Bethlehem in cooperation with the French government; an agricultural project in Jericho in cooperation with the Japanese government; an industrial zone near Jenin with the German government and a new tourism attraction on the Jordan River at the site where Jesus was said to be first baptized.
He also spoke about a tourist package his ministry was working on that would enable visitors to go to Jerusalem, Jericho, the Jordan River, Nazareth and other biblical sites, which he hoped the Jordanian government would also be involved in.
Shalom said that while economic peace couldn't replace diplomatic efforts, it was a good place to start because history showed that when there were economic benefits, the Arab countries found a way to work with Israel.
"If there is a benefit, if there is an economic interest in the Arab side, they are willing to move towards more understanding with Israel," said Shalom.
Shalom called for more European involvement in the region, but conditioned it on a less biased approach.
"I believe that the Europeans should play a key role in the peace process, but in order to play a key role they should have a more balanced attitude towards the Israel-Palestinian conflict.
"You can't accept 100% of the Palestinian's demands in advance - a Palestinian state, the '67 borders, Jerusalem as the capital and some of you even accept the principle of the Palestinian right of return - and at the same time to ask to become mediators and facilitators," said Shalom.
On the subject of Iran, Shalom spoke about the common danger that Israel shared with the moderate Arab countries in the Middle East.
"In our view we should empower and embrace the moderates, but at the same time we should weaken and isolate the extremists. I believe we are wasting crucial time by waiting for the Security Council to take its own resolutions to enforce sanctions on Iran. I don't believe Russia and China will join," said Shalom.
"Taking real measures against Iran is necessary. The clock is ticking. And we should all know that Israel cannot live with the idea that Iran will hold a nuclear weapon," he said.
Following the address, Shalom responded to questions from reporters and spoke about the need for economic peace to continue parallel to a political agreement.
"It looks like the Palestinians are concerned that if they will move towards the implementation of some of the projects or we engage in economic peace, it might mean that Israel will abandon the political dialogue or ignore their demands. I think it's nonsense. I think we can do it at the same time," said Shalom.