Netanyahu: When moratorium expires, building will resume

PM resists compromise proposals on where to build; In Amman, Barak expresses hope PA will come to talks with an ‘open heart.’

netanyahu flag 311 (photo credit: AP)
netanyahu flag 311
(photo credit: AP)
Just five days before the restart of direct Israeli-Palestinian Authority negotiations, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu made clear on Sunday he did not back various compromise proposals regarding settlement building, whereby it could resume at the end of September inside the large settlement blocs, but not beyond the security barrier.
Netanyahu, at a meeting of Likud ministers, said that these ideas were those of Intelligence Agencies Minister Dan Meridor and other cabinet members, but not the government’s. The government, he said, decided last year to declare a 10-month settlement construction moratorium. That moratorium was due to expire on midnight on September 26.
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“There is a government decision to freeze construction only for 10 months, and when that period ends, the decision is no longer valid,” he said.
Nevertheless, Netanyahu was expected to convene his senior ministers, the so-called “septet,” on Monday to discuss the upcoming negotiations, but canceled the meeting late Sunday night.
Earlier Sunday, he spoke with Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman about possible formulas for defusing the moratorium issue so that Israel will not be blamed by the Palestinians for torpedoing the talks.
Lieberman has come out in favor of building in the large settlement blocs according to the laws of supply and demand, and building beyond the West Bank security barrier to accommodate natural growth.
The prime minister’s comments came as various Palestinian spokesmen continued to posit this as the central issue in the talks, threatening to walk out of the negotiations if Israel restarts settlement building.
Netanyahu has said that Israel’s position is that this would be one of the core issues to be discussed in the negotiations, and he would make no declarations before then.
Diplomatic sources in Washington downplayed on Sunday Palestinian threats to bolt the talks over this issue, saying that after it took so long and so much effort to get the sides to the table, the Obama administration would not allow either side to torpedo the talks so soon after they began anew, and certainly not before the US midterm elections on November 2.
Netanyahu, at the outset of Sunday’s weekly cabinet meeting, said his goal was a peace agreement based on the following principles: “The recognition of Israel as the national state of the Jewish people, the end of the conflict and of claims on Israel, that will stem from recognizing it as the national state of the Jewish people, and the establishment of tangible security measures on the ground so as to ensure that there will not be a repeat in Judea and Samaria of what happened in Lebanon and the Gaza Strip after Israel withdrew from these areas.”
He said that there would obviously be many other issues, but that those were the “basic components” of Israel’s approach to the talks.
Netanyahu said he was aware of the difficulties and “potholes,” and he was not minimizing them, yet the basic question was whether the Palestinian side would be as willing as the Israeli side to advance toward a peace that would resolve the conflict for generations to come.
“There shouldn’t just be a tactical halt between two wars or two outbreaks of terrorism, but a peace based on recognition, security, stability and economic prosperity between the two peoples that will endure for us and our children,” the prime minister said. “This is my goal and I very much hope that it is the goal of the Palestinian leadership as well.”
Netanyahu said that in addition to meeting with US President Barack Obama, he also hoped to meet in Washington with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and Jordanian King Abdullah II.
Defense Minister Ehud Barak, meanwhile, flew to Amman on Sunday for a meeting with Abdullah. Barak, acting almost in the capacity of foreign minister since Lieberman has taken a back seat in the current process because he doesn’t believe it will bear fruit, issued a statement after the meeting saying he told the king that Israel viewed peace as a “strategic goal,” and expected the Palestinians to come to the talks with an “open heart.”
Like all visits by the highest echelon of Israeli officials recently to Jordan, this one, too, was kept tightly under wraps until it was finished and a statement was released to reporters. The statement said Barak told Abdullah that Israel believes Jordan has a “central and important role” in regional peace and in “helping Israel and the Palestinians reach understandings.”
The Jordanian Petra News Agency reported that Abdullah told Barak that peace in the Middle East was a regional and international “strategic interest.”