'PA talks, US action on Iran not linked'

Deputy FM Danny Ayalon denies 'Washington Post' report, says quote in paper was 'misinterpreted.'

Danny Ayalon 248.88 (photo credit: AP)
Danny Ayalon 248.88
(photo credit: AP)
Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon on Wednesday denied a report that Israel will not move ahead with diplomatic talks with the Palestinians until the US places more pressure on Iran to stop its nuclear weapons program. "We will deal with the Palestinian issue as if there is no Iranian issue, and with the Iranian issue as if there is no Palestinian issue," Ayalon said. He was responding to a Washington Post article published earlier in the day that claimed the "new Israeli government will not move ahead on the core issues of peace talks with the Palestinians until it sees progress in US efforts to stop Iran's suspected pursuit of a nuclear weapon and limit Teheran's rising influence in the region." The Washington Post quoted Ayalon as saying, "If we want to have a real political process with the Palestinians, then you can't have the Iranians undermining and sabotaging." But Ayalon seemed to suggest this quote was misinterpreted. The link between Iran and the Palestinian issue, "if there is such a link, is a negative one. The Iranian influence [among the Palestinians] is destructive," he said. Also on Wednesday, a Foreign Ministry spokesman denied that Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman had called the Arab peace initiative "dangerous." According to spokesman Yigal Palmor, the minister "was referring to the issue of returning [Palestinian] refugees, something which would mean the destruction of Israel. This is an opinion that is held by a broad consensus of Israelis." Lieberman was quoted in the media as having called the Arab peace initiative "a dangerous plan, a recipe for Israel's destruction" at a Foreign Ministry meeting on Tuesday night. But Palmor said this statement related to a specific call in the plan to abide by 1948's UN General Assembly Resolution 194, in which article 11 demanded that "refugees wishing to return to their homes and live at peace with their neighbors should be permitted to do so at the earliest practicable date." Lieberman, speaking at a Foreign Ministry meeting on Tuesday night, emphasized that the most problematic aspect of the initiative was that it called for a Palestinian right of return. While denying reports that the political leadership of the Foreign Ministry held views opposed to the peace process, one ministry official suggested that the widespread media speculation regarding the views of Lieberman and Ayalon was due to a paucity of public statements. Foreign Ministry officials are resisting pressure from journalists to comment on the new government's policies before the ministry's political leadership finishes formulating them. The government has said it is currently conducting a monthlong "policy review," developing its views on Israel's interests in the international arena and on the peace process. The review is expected to be completed by the May 18 meeting between Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and US President Barack Obama. As Netanyahu prepared on Wednesday for his trip to the United States, the debate heated up between two senior coalition partners, Israel Beiteinu chairman Lieberman and Labor head Defense Minister Ehud Barak. Netanyahu is likely to come to Washington with a proposal in hand, and has reportedly set a series of parameters on which he is unwilling to negotiate, including Israeli control of the border crossings of the future Palestinian state, Israeli air control over the entire entity, and forbidding the Palestinian state from maintaining a military. But within his government, serious disagreement persists between Lieberman and Barak. Barak on Wednesday reiterated his support for a two-state solution, in effect aligning himself - save reservations vis-à-vis the refugee issue - with the Arab initiative. "An Israeli plan for a regional solution is a central axis of Israel's policy in the coming years and a key to ensuring Israel's future in the region," Barak said during a meeting. "Israel must cooperate with the US in formulating the details of the solution, which will also ensure Israel's security interests... and Israel's Jewish character, without allowing a right of return." Barak has come out on the side of the Obama administration regarding the Arab initiative, which he said should be the basis of Israel's approach to peace talks, sans the Arab world's stipulation that Israel allow Palestinian refugees and their descendents to resettle within Israel. Elie Leshem contributed to this report.