FM: Israel will talk with PA, but won’t freeze settlements

Lieberman says no building freeze in Jerusalem or in West Bank, "not for three months, not for three days and not even for three hours."

Avigdor Lieberman 521 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Avigdor Lieberman 521
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman on Tuesday called on Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to reject the unity deal Fatah made with Hamas and to resume direct talks with Israel – even though Israel has no intention of ceding to Abbas’s demand that it freeze settlement activity.
“The State of Israel has always said, and I repeat, we are willing to come to the negotiating table immediately to start direct talks with all of our neighbors,” Lieberman told an Independence Day gathering of foreign diplomats at Beit Hanassi. “We are willing to make a great effort to achieve peace – but we will not compromise our vital security interests.”
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Fatah, he said, had aligned itself with Hamas, an organization whose charter calls for the destruction of Israel. That Hamas “should be thought of as partners to Fatah tells us more about Fatah than it does about Hamas,” Lieberman said.
He spoke in advance of a trip to Washington by Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu starting next week. The prime minister will meet with President Barack Obama on May 20.
On Tuesday night, US House Speaker John Boehner confirmed that Netanyahu would address a special joint meeting of Congress on May 24.
Preceding Netanyahu in Washington will be Jordan’s King Abdullah II, who says he’s seeking ways to advance a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict according to the pre- 1967 boundaries. Abdullah will meet with Obama next Tuesday, although he’ll also be meeting this week with British Prime Minister David Cameron.
As Netanyahu burns the midnight oil writing his speech, he is under immense diplomatic pressure to find a way to break the impasse in the peace process.
Since the Fatah-Hamas unity deal was announced two weeks ago, Netanyahu said peace was not possible unless any new Palestinian government accepted the three principles of the Quartet: a renunciation of terror, recognition of Israel and recognition of past agreements.
Hamas has refused this request. Although the international community, including the US, has echoed this demand, it has at the same time insisted that the peace process must move forward in spite of the Fatah-Hamas unity deal.
On Tuesday night, Defense Minister Ehud Barak called on the international community to insist that Hamas recognize Israel. He also outlined Israel’s conditions for a peace deal with the Palestinians, including maintaining settlement blocs and Jewish neighborhoods in east Jerusalem.
Speaking at a Defense Ministry reception, he said the pre-1967 borders would be adjusted, with land swaps that would leave the Palestinians with the same amount of territory they would receive if there were a full return to the 1967 lines.
For security reasons, the new Palestinian state would be demilitarized and Israel would need to maintain a presence in the Jordan Valley, Barak added.
It would also be clear that Israel was the homeland for the Jewish people, much like the new state of Palestine would be for the Palestinian people, Barak said.
Israel has always known that it would have to take courageous steps for peace, he said. Only such steps can thwart Palestinian plans for unilateral statehood in September.
In a statement Obama released on Monday night in honor of Israel’s Independence Day, he said the current turmoil in the Middle East had created openings for peace, and that he intended to press ahead toward an Israeli-Palestinian agreement.
“We will continue our efforts with Israel and others in the region to achieve a comprehensive peace, including a two-state solution, and to working together toward a future of peace, security and dignity for the people of Israel and all the people of the region,” Obama said.
The Arab satellite news station Al Jazeera reported, however, that Hamas had no plan to talk with Israel.
The Palestinian group’s comments came after President Shimon Peres said he was not ruling out the possibility of future negotiations.
Al Jazeera quoted a senior Hamas official as saying the Islamist group’s strategy did not include talks with “either Peres or the Zionist entity.” The official added that negotiations “are a means to stall and allot time [to Israel] to dedicate its attention to facts on the ground.”
On Tuesday, Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal said he gave the Israeli government a one-year deadline to recognize an independent Palestinian state to be established on lands occupied since 1967, including Jerusalem as its capital, according to the Palestinian news agency Ma’an.
Mashaal added that the challenge did not necessarily imply an armed conflict should Israel fail to recognize this state – but “[Hamas] would add new cards to the resistance,” Ma’an reported.
The Hamas leader gave his statement during a meeting with youth activists who demonstrated in the recent revolution against former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak.
According to Ma’an, Mashaal said Hamas and Fatah had discussed at length the appropriate manner to conduct “resistance” against Israel, which included discussions of armed conflict. Mashaal said any future armed conflict with Israel would have to be coordinated by Fatah and Hamas.
Abbas, however, gave a contradictory message to a visiting delegation from the dovish US Jewish lobby J Street, whose leaders visited him in Ramallah on Sunday. He said he would only renew talks with Israel if it froze construction in the West Bank and east Jerusalem.
On Tuesday morning, Lieberman responded directly to Abbas’s comments by noting that when Israel had frozen new settlement construction for 10 months, Abbas ignored the gesture for the first nine, and returned to the table only in the last weeks of the moratorium.
When Lieberman hears the Palestinians talk of another moratorium now, he said, “it is clear that they are only looking for excuses to avoid meaningful talks that will lead to a comprehensive solution. We are ready for immediate talks without preconditions. However, there will be no new moratorium in Jerusalem or Judea and Samaria. Not for three months, not for three days and not even for three hours.”
In spite of the tough positions of both the Israelis and the Palestinians, the US has continued to hold out hope that peace was possible not just in the Israeli and Palestinian territories, but also in the Middle East as a whole.
Referring to the tumult sweeping Arab regimes, Obama said in his message to Israel for its Independence Day: “I believe that the region can be more peaceful and prosperous when its people are able to fulfill their legitimate aspirations.”
Obama also stressed the enduring ties between the US and the Jewish State.
“Our two nations share a unique and unbreakable bond of friendship that is anchored in common interests and shared values, and the United States’ unwavering commitment to Israel’s security,” he stated. “I have every confidence that the strong relationship between our countries will grow deeper with each passing year.”
The White House also announced Monday that it was planning a second annual Jewish American Heritage Month reception for later in May. May has been thus designated, in part, because it coincides with Israel’s Independence Day.
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton also conveyed her congratulations to Israel in a statement released Sunday.
“Our two countries are united by a deep, unshakable friendship and bond,” she said. “We are bound together by our shared values and history pursuing freedom, equality and democracy. And this relationship is deepening every day.
“As you celebrate your independence,” Clinton continued, “the Middle East is experiencing rapid change. This is a moment of uncertainty, but also of opportunity. The security of Israel is – and will remain – a cornerstone of US foreign policy, and we will continue to strive for a comprehensive peace between Israel and all of its neighbors.”
Jerusalem Post staff contributed to this report.