Labor’s Herzog says diplomatic process must go on

Livni calls on PM to "make the decisions that will enable continuation of negotiations"; Likud hawks prepare to blame PA for any failure in talks.

Herzog 311 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Herzog 311
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
With peace talks on the rocks over the expiration of the West Bank building moratorium, top ministers scrambled on Saturday evening to recover lost ground by calling on the Palestinians to return to the table, while at least one Labor minister hinted in the direction of reshuffling the government.
In the meantime, Kadima leaders wasted no time in calling on Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu to accede to American demands and put the “national good” over “political interests.”
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Welfare and Social Services Minister Isaac Herzog (Labor), speaking to Channel 2, called on Netanyahu to “call the cabinet into session so that we can weigh all the alternatives before us. If there is a need,” he said, “we must consider a different political construction that would lead Israel through this diplomatic process.”
In a letter he wrote to Netanyahu on Saturday night, Herzog wrote that while he was aware of the need for discretion in the negotiations, the past has shown that there are “decisive moments” that necessitate discussions in the security cabinet or cabinet so that “it doesn’t turn out that we have lost a fateful opportunity, when the responsibility rests with every one of us as members of the government.”
Herzog said that a meeting must be held urgently to discuss the American proposals, and – hinting at a coalition crisis over the issue – that “missing the chance for peace and the death of the negotiations” will have grave consequences both in the diplomatic sphere, as well as in the “domestic political” sphere.
But Herzog’s party leader, Defense Minister Ehud Barak, stopped short of veiled hints about leaving the coalition or welcoming opposition party Kadima into the coalition, calling instead on the Palestinian Authority to simply return to the negotiations.
“We all must act with consideration and with determination to overcome the difficulties and continue with the negotiations in order to reach results,” Barak said.
The defense minister said he was certain that intensive discussions on the part of the Palestinians, Israelis, Americans and Arab states would lead to a breakthrough formula allowing the continuation of direct talks.
Barak’s comments drew fire from coalition partner Israel Beiteinu, with MK David Rotem accusing the defense minister of weakening Israel’s position.
Kadima offered a much more welcoming perspective on continuing negotiations, calling “again on the prime minister to make the right decisions that would allow the continuation of talks and prevent their dissolution.”
Kadima chairwoman MK Tzipi Livni, who will spend the week touring the United States, said on Saturday afternoon that “Netanyahu knows he holds in his hands the possibility of making the decisions that will enable negotiations to continue, and that Kadima will support him in any decision that will advance the negotiations and strengthen Israel’s security interests.
“Any dissolution of the talks will have serious implications for Israel, and Kadima will struggle against any decision that will stop the talks and thus cause real damage to Israel’s interests,” Livni promised. “Netanyahu must choose the real long-term interests of Israel over any personal political interests.”
While the prime minister called on the Palestinians to return to talks, MK Ophir Akunis (Likud), one of the lawmakers closest to Netanyahu, placed the blame for any cessation of talks squarely on the Palestinians.
“This announcement is further proof that the only obstacle to peace in the Middle East is the Palestinians themselves – not a freeze and not a thaw,” said Akunis, in comments echoed by Habayit Hayehudi chairman Daniel Herschkowitz.
Herb Keinon contributed to this report