'PA must know peace talks are only game in town'

Liberman, Bayit Yehudi MK argue against negotiations as Justice Minister touts their importance to Knesset panel.

Kerry and Livni 370 (photo credit: REUTERS)
Kerry and Livni 370
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Negotiations with the Palestinians have yet to begin, but MKs debated their merits and details with Justice Minister Tzipi Livni in the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee Tuesday.
The meeting comes ahead of a visit to Israel by US Secretary of State John Kerry on Thursday. He is scheduled to immediately meet with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and on Friday with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.
British Foreign Minister William Hague is also expected to arrive in the region on Thursday for talks with Israeli and Palestinian officials.
The EU, which last year urged the Obama administration to take a more active role in the diplomatic process, has so far given its full backing to Kerry’s attempts to restart the peace process. In an apparent effort to create a positive atmosphere before Kerry’s visit, the IDF announced on Tuesday that Netanyahu and Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon had approved the extension of the Gazan fishing area from 5 km.
to 9.5 km.
The area was restricted following Gaza missile fire on the South on March 21. In November, Israel extended the fishing area from 5 km. to 9.5 km. as part of the Egyptian- brokered truce that brought an end to Operation Pillar of Defense.
Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee chairman Avigdor Liberman opened the meeting on Tuesday by pointing out that expectations for the Oslo Accords and Gaza Disengagement yielded very different results.
Liberman also asserted that Abbas had lost his legitimacy in the eyes of the Palestinians and that, in his opinion, it is impossible to solve the conflict in the current situation, it can only be managed.
“There’s no magic solution to the conflict with the Palestinians,” he said. “Why are foreign ministers always here? Why are they so obsessed with the Palestinian issue?” Livni, the minister responsible for peace talks, responded that, while she thinks the conflict can be solved, even those who don’t should agree to peace talks.
The justice minister described two views on peace talks in the government: “First, some think we have the right to the whole land and [need] to have sovereignty over all of it and continue building. That is not my view.
I believe in our right to the whole Land of Israel, but that we need to work toward a solution in which we will have two sovereign states, one next to the other.”
She told the committee that “the situation in which there is a diplomatic freeze is dangerous and can lead the Palestinians to be frustrated.”
When there are no negotiations, the PA takes unilateral steps like becoming an observer state in the United Nations, she explained, and the world continues to put pressure on Israel with boycotts and appeals to the UN.
The PA plans to apply to 16 additional international organizations, she added.
“We want the PA to know that peace talks are the only game in town,” Livni said.
When an agreement is reached, the justice minister explained, the resulting Palestinian state must be demilitarized and the refugee issue must end.
Throughout the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee meeting, Livni faced questioning from right-wing MKs who oppose her views on the peace process.
“Israel’s willingness to have talks without preconditions has not changed. Even giving into preconditions has not brought the Palestinians back to the negotiating table, so now the offer [of talks] lies at their doorstep, not ours,” MK Reuven Rivlin (Likud Beytenu) said, adding that the government must learn the lessons of recent efforts to restart talks.
Rivlin also asked Livni whether her stances are the official government position, and pointed out that there seem to be differences of opinion within the cabinet.
“Two states for two nations is not the official government position. It’s not in the coalition guidelines, and not coincidentally.
This might be [the prime minister’s] and your opinion, but not a government stance,” MK Orit Struck (Bayit Yehudi) said.
While Livni spoke, Struck interjected several times, exclaiming “This is our land.”
On the way out of the meeting, Livni told Struck: “It’s our land, but the question is if the state will remain ours or not.”
“How can you expect the Palestinians to start talks when our government opposes a Palestinian state?” MK Ronen Hoffman (Yesh Atid) asked Struck.
MK Yoni Chetboun (Bayit Yehudi) chimed in, saying the government hasn’t made an official decision on the matter, and MK Mordechai Yogev (Bayit Yehudi) said that a twostate solution is “detached from reality.”
MK Omer Bar-Lev (Labor) wondered if Livni is a “lone wolf in the government or a fig leaf covering the government’s true policy on the Palestinian issue?” “Do government decisions legalizing outposts help or harm your efforts?” MK Nachman Shai (Labor) asked.
Livni retorted to Bar-Lev and Shai that the political environment she is in is a direct result of their party not joining the coalition.
Herb Keinon contributed to this report.