'If PA skips talks, end freeze'

Steinitz: Further US pressure “would be a mistaken request."

Ramat Shlomo construction 311 (photo credit: Associated Press)
Ramat Shlomo construction 311
(photo credit: Associated Press)
The government should consider canceling the 10-month freeze on new Jewish construction in the West Bank if the Palestinian Authority does not agree to resume peace negotiations soon, Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz has said.
“If another month or two pass, and the Palestinians don’t come to the negotiations, we ought to cancel or reconsider the freeze,” Steinitz told The Jerusalem Post in an interview. “If you take a step that is not at all effective and may even be counterproductive… then it needs to be reconsidered.”
Steinitz argued that the Netanyahu government had made three dramatic gestures to the Palestinians in its first year in office, and that now was the time for reciprocal moves from the Palestinian Authority, not further concessions from Israel.
For that reason, he said, any pressure from the United States to extend the building moratorium “would be a mistaken request and an unfair one.”
The finance minister listed the three major gestures as being the freeze, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s public endorsement of Palestinian statehood, and the government’s assiduous promotion of “economic peace” in the West Bank, which he said had helped fuel economic growth there over the past 12 months at a rate of more than 10 percent.
“We removed roadblocks, we removed checkpoints, we extended the opening hours and improved the efficiency at the Jordan crossing points, and eased the transfer of goods to the Palestinian areas via Israel,” said Steinitz in the interview, which will appear in full in the Post later this week.
“And we encouraged Israeli companies and international firms to do business in the territories… There’s been a real revolution. A fall in unemployment. A growth in revenues. A greater sense of welfare in Palestinian society – to the credit of the Netanyahu government.”
Unfortunately, in return, he said, Israel had been met with a Palestinian “cold shoulder.”
Any expectation that the Israeli commitment to economic peace would yield a lessening of Palestinian hostility to Israel had proved empty.
“Have no doubt that we are disappointed by the Palestinians’ attitude,” said Steinitz.
Sometimes this imbalance has reached “absurd” proportions, he said, “where we’re encouraging countries to help boost the Palestinian economy, and the Palestinians are simultaneously urging those same countries to boycott Israel, to boycott the Israeli economy. There’s a limit to this kind of absurdity. And I don’t know how long it can go on like this.”
Specifically, the finance minister urged the Palestinians to declare “unequivocally that they recognize Israel as a Jewish state.”
He added that “they should also announce that there won’t be a ‘right of return’ [of refugees] to the State of Israel. They need to make clear that, as soon as they can, they’ll throw all the missiles that have accumulated in Gaza into the sea… [And] they need to stop inciting against Israel... The Palestinian educational system, to our surprise, even under Prime Minister [Salam] Fayyad, continues to incite against Israel and against the Jewish people in a very harsh and intensive fashion.”
Steinitz argued that both the US and Europe realized that it was the Palestinians, rather than Israel, who were preventing progress in the peace process. can backing for Israel, and that the US was not rushing to pressure Israel,” he said.
“The Americans and the Europeans recognize that the missing piece hereis the Palestinian piece,” he said. “The Israeli side has made dramaticgestures in the past year. The Israeli side is ready for negotiations.The Israeli side is also ready for compromises. The side that is notready for compromises and negotiations, and certainly isn’t makinggestures, is the Palestinian side.”
Still, he acknowledged that “the Arabs in general and the Palestiniansin particular see this [US] administration as less friendly to Israel,or more ready to press Israel for concessions.”
He said this was “not healthy” and didn’t help with peace negotiations.
“The Arabs were always ready for talks with Israel precisely when they saw there was Ameri