PM: Sensitive contacts with US continuing over impasse

Alfei Menashe Regional Council head says that in spite of the moratorium’s expiration, real construction had not resumed because the government had not issued new building tenders.

Clinton Netanyahu 311 (photo credit: Associated Press)
Clinton Netanyahu 311
(photo credit: Associated Press)
Israel and the US are involved in “sensitive diplomatic contacts” to find a way to continue the direct negotiations with the Palestinian Authority, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said Monday at the beginning of the weekly cabinet meeting.
In his first public comments on the crisis in the direct talks, resulting from last week’s expiration of the 10-month settlement moratorium, Netanyahu said those talks had begun after his government made a number of gestures to relaunch them, including announcing the settlement freeze last November.
Jews living in Judea and Samaria “have been under an unjust attack now for nearly half a century,” Netanyahu said.
“They deserve to live normal lives like every other citizen, and that is our policy – to ensure that they can live normal lives.”
The prime minister said that despite all the difficulties, his government had lived up to its commitments regarding the construction moratorium.
“Now we have an interest in continuing the peace negotiations,” he said. “That is a vital interest for Israel. We are currently in the midst of sensitive diplomatic contacts with the American administration in order to find a solution that will make possible a continuation of the talks.”
Netanyahu did not reveal anything about those talks, or what was being discussed, and said this was not the time “to make declarations. We are not looking to cause an uproar, and I do not have the possibility of denying every baseless report published in the media.”
The London-based newspaper Asharq Alawsat reported Monday that Netanyahu had agreed in principle to extend the moratorium by two months, in exchange for an incentive basket from the US including military hardware, promises of political support, and assurances that in any agreement, Israel would – as Netanyahu has demanded – be able to keep troops stationed on the eastern border of a future Palestinian state to prevent arms smuggling.
Netanyahu told the cabinet his government had an interest in acting “wisely, calmly and responsibly to advance the diplomatic process. We will quietly consider the situation and the complex reality away from the spotlights. I suggest that everyone be patient, act responsibly, calmly and – above all – quietly. This is exactly what we must do.”
Before the cabinet meeting, which beyond Netanyahu’s opening comments did not discuss the diplomatic process, the prime minister met with his Likud ministers and said that when there was a “need to make decisions,” he would bring the matter to the relevant bodies for discussion. Currently, he said, there was nothing to discuss.
Government sources have said in recent days that Netanyahu would not convene the forum of his senior ministers – the septet – or the 15- member security cabinet to discuss the issue until there was a concrete and detailed proposal on the table for how to overcome the current impasse.
A security cabinet meeting is scheduled for Wednesday, but government sources said this was the regularly scheduled weekly meeting and at this point did not have anything to do with the current negotiations.
A septet meeting scheduled for Tuesday was not expected to deal with the impasse in the talks either.
Netanyahu told the Likud ministers that his goal was to continue the talks, but that he also had a responsibility to those living in the settlements.
Environmental Protection Minister Gilad Erdan, who was in the meeting, told Israel Radio that Netanyahu had given no specifics regarding the talks with the US.
“The prime minister said that at this time he had nothing to bring before the government or the security cabinet,” Erdan said. He said Netanyahu had stressed that he had “an interest in preserving the settlements, and also in preserving a continuation of the negotiations. So it is clear that these discussions must be discreet, and it is impossible to open everything up before the government when things are still not clear.”
Erdan, when asked what he knew about the US offer, said he knew nothing beyond what he had read in the press. He said Netanyahu had not given the ministers any indication of where matters currently stood.
Meanwhile, Alfei Menashe Regional Council head Hisdai Eliezer told The Jerusalem Post Monday evening that in spite of the moratorium’s expiration, real construction had not resumed because the government had not issued new building tenders.
The resumption of construction on projects with permits does not solve the problem for settlements like his, which need government-issued tenders.
Without those tenders, all that has happened is that there is a de facto moratorium in place, said Hisdai.
It would be better in that case to reinstate the moratorium, rather than pursue a de facto moratorium policy that would not allow new building, yet would earn Israel international condemnation, said Hisdai