'Reasonable chance' of talks this month

PM comments despite no concrete indications of readiness from PA.

Bibi worried 311 (photo credit: AP)
Bibi worried 311
(photo credit: AP)
Despite a lack of any concrete indications that Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas intends to engage directly with Israel, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said Sunday there was a “reasonable chance” that direct talks would begin this month.
Netanyahu’s comments came in a session with Likud ministers that preceded the weekly cabinet meeting.
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At the cabinet meeting, the prime minister said that discussions he has held in recent weeks with US, European and Arab leaders, specifically Egypt’s President Hosni Mubarak and Jordan’s King Abdullah II, “created a better international climate for the start of direct talks.
“I think that the international community, at least an important part of it, and certainly the US, expects the Palestinian Authority to put aside the claims, excuses and conditions – and enter into peace talks, not just to hold peace talks, but in order to achieve a peace settlement based on security,” Netanyahu said.
Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon told The Jerusalem Post Sunday that while there were no concrete indications from the PA of a readiness to enter talks, they were well aware of the expectations of the international community, specifically the US and the EU.
The Prime Minister’s Office, meanwhile, unequivocally denied reports that Netanyahu assured US President Barack Obama that he would support an agreement based on the pre- 1967 lines, with minor territorial adjustments.
Abbas also reportedly told Arab League foreign ministers that Obama assured him that if he went into direct talks, Washington would work toward an extension of the settlement construction moratorium, that would also include new building in east Jerusalem.
Ayalon said that Netanyahu made no commitments to the Americans regarding direct talks. He also said that a continuation of the settlement freeze was unacceptable.
With that, Ayalon made clear that there was unlikely to be a massive building boom once the settlement construction moratorium expired, but rather that construction would be aimed at ensuring the continuation of “normal life” in the settlements, and that “political, security and foreign affairs” would be factored in when deciding where and when to build.
He said that a “responsible government” will have to take into account all the relevant considerations when deciding on building after the moratorium expires.
While the PA has made clear that it wanted borders to be the immediate focus of direct talks, Netanyahu in the cabinet said the emphasis needed to be on security.
“While it is not sufficient in itself, security is a fundamental condition and a necessary condition for achieving peace and there will be no compromise in its regard by the State of Israel,” Netanyahu said.
In recent weeks, there have been three major security-related points that have been focused on inside the Prime Minister’s Office in preparation for the restarting of direct talks.
The first point is to keep a future Palestinian state in the West Bank from becoming a terrorist base, and ensuring that missiles and rockets cannot be smuggled into there as they are smuggled into Gaza and southern Lebanon.
The second point is a reevaluation of threats Israel may face from the eastern front in the coming years.
While the US invasion of Iraq led to a feeling for a number of years that Israel did not have to worry about an imminent threat from the east, the US desire to withdraw troops from Iraq has led to increased fear that – once again – Israel needed to be on real guard against an assault from that direction. This has revised talk of the need for early warning stations in the Jordan Valley, an idea that was rarely discussed over the last few years.
The third point being raised inside the Prime Minister’s Office regarding security is the fact that all agreements are reversible, and that Israel needed to ensure – through the military demilitarization of a future Palestinian state – that even if there were regime change inside a Palestinian state, a new, more radical government could not pose a threat to Israel’s security.
Iran, and – to a much lesser degree – Turkey are being held up as examples of how once friendly regimes were replaced with other regimes that dramatically changed their countries’ relations with Israel. If it could happen with those countries, the argument runs, it could happen in a future Palestinian state, and Israel needed to protect itself against such an eventuality.
Government officials said that once direct talks began, Netanyahu did not want to see them “atomized” into numerous subcommittees, but rather wanted the core issues to be tackled by him and Abbas.
All the core issues were interconnected, he has said in internal discussions, and one can’t talk about borders without also first addressing what type of security arrangements will be in place on the other side of the border.