Barak: Settlement halt will lead to renewed PA talks
FM Lieberman: It is up to the Palestinians to decide whether peace negotiations will resume.
Defense Minister Ehud Barak said Thursday that he believed Israel's declaration of a 10-month freeze on settlement construction in the West Bank would lead to a renewal of peace talks with the Palestinians.
But, the former prime minister and army chief cautioned, this would not happen in the coming days.
"I believe the talks will be renewed after the Americans make their proposal. The alternative is diplomatic stagnation that could result in violence," Barak told Israel Radio.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced the moratorium at a special news conference on Wednesday, during which he urged the Palestinians to return to the negotiating table.
Also Thursday, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman said that Israel had made a significant gesture in declaring the freeze, and it was now up to the Palestinians to decide whether peace negotiations would resume.
"We've contributed what we could contribute; the Palestinians will make their considerations based on internal considerations that don't need to concern us," Lieberman told Army Radio. "The ball is now in the Palestinian court."
The minister was echoing comments made by Netanyahu shortly after he announced the moratorium. The premier said Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas now had "no more excuses" to avoid renewing peace negotiations with Israel.
Lieberman later shrugged off Palestinian dismissal of the decision, saying winning international support was more important.
"The last thing that should interest us is the Palestinians' concern. Before the Palestinian issue, what should interest us is our friends in the world," Avigdor Lieberman told Israel Radio. "We spoke to them and most said 'help us to help you.'"
The Palestinian Authority had swiftly rejected the moratorium as it does not include a building freeze in Jewish neighborhoods of East Jerusalem, the mainly Arab sector of the city they want as the capital of a future state.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on Thursday said the onus remained on Netanyahu.
"The prime minister has to choose between peace and colonization, but unfortunately he chose colonization," Abbas told reporters during a visit to Chile.
The Obama administration welcomed the decision Wednesday as a step toward resuming Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said in a statement released moments after Netanyahu announced the 10-month freeze.
"Today's announcement by the government of Israel helps move forward toward resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict," Clinton said.
'We'll keep building'
Dani Dayan, leader of the West Bank settlers' council, accused Netanyahu of capitulating to American demands and getting nothing in return for his concessions.
He pledged to continue building as much as possible.
"We feel that he is going in a very slippery slope in which he is betraying his own beliefs," he told The Associated Press. "We will do everything in our capacity to keep building, to keep developing our communities, and I am optimistic that we will prevail."
The militant Hamas group, which controls the Gaza Strip, also condemned the partial freeze.
"It's a cosmetic step," Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri told a local Gaza Web site Thursday. "It aims to restart pointless negotiations ... without any real cost."
Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said Thursday that the freeze move was insignificant, as current West Bank construction was not included in the moratorium. He said Netanyahu's announcement was aimed more toward appeasing American pressure than truly trying to reconcile with Palestinians.
"At the end of the day Netanyahu needs to make peace with us, the Palestinians, he doesn't need to make peace with Americans," Erekat told Army Radio. "If that is what he wants, that is his business. The last I know, Washington is 6,000 miles from Jerusalem, while Jericho is 67."
The Anti-Defamation League on Thursday hailed the Israeli decision as "a courageous and unprecedented step," saying that it "unquestionably demonstrates Israel's deep and ongoing commitment to reaching a negotiated peace agreement with the Palestinians."
The organization urged the Palestinian Authority in turn "to respond meaningfully to this significant step by Israel, and take their own meaningful action to promote reconciliation, peace and security with Israel."
The Washington-based lobby J Street also welcomed the move, saying in a statement Wednesday that it "shares the Obama administration's hope that today's announcement by the Israeli government on settlement construction will allow a focus in the coming months on establishing a two-state solution and advancing toward comprehensive Israeli-Arab peace."
The group also urged all parties in the Mideast to commit further to the peace process, saying that "Israel, the Palestinians and the broader Arab world will all need to do far more if we are to see real progress toward resolution of the conflict."