Gabi Ashkenazi Sept. 5, 2010 Alon Ron
IDF Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi meeting with Or Yehuda high school students on Spetember 5, 2010. Photo by Alon Ron
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Israel Defense Forces Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi warned Tuesday that violent clashes could resume between Israelis and Palestinians, should ongoing peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority run aground.

The IDF chief told the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee that he did not expect a cycle of violence as severe as the one that began the second Intifada in 2000, but said that sufficient preparation was needed in any event.

"We must be prepared for every possibility," Ashkenazi told the lawmakers. "The Palestinians have very sober expectations regarding progress, whereas in Israel, tensions exist among the Jewish population and the aspiration to end the construction freeze in settlements."

Among the Palestinians there are "groups under Iranian influence who will try to thwart the negotiations and grab attention," added the IDF chief. "The IDF reserves the right to operate fully in Judea and Samaria [the West Bank]. As far as we our concerned, there is no Area A and we cannot rely on the Palestinian security forces with this regard."

The IDF chief made his remarks a day after Prime Minister Benjamin
Netanyahu said that Israel would want to keep its troops on the eastern border of a future Palestinian state, telling American Jewish leaders that an international force alone could not ensure Israel's security.

Palestinians reject the idea and have proposed deploying international force along the border between the West Bank and Jordan, as part of a peace settlement.

Netanyahu told U.S. Jewish leaders in a conference call on Monday that the only force that can be relied on to defend the Jewish people is the Israel Defense Forces.

“I don’t believe that under these circumstances international troops will do the job,” Netanyahu said, according to the transcript posted on his office’s Web site. “We live in a very tough neighborhood and the peace will be tested constantly."

Netanyahu fears Palestinian militants will attack Israel from within a Palestinian state if IDF troops are withdrawn from the West Bank-Jordan border.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas maintains that an Israeli troop presence would infringe upon Palestinian sovereignty.

The Palestinian Authority and Israel are currently engaging in direct negotiations, after nearly two years of stalled face-to-face talks.

While both have agreed that the establishment of a Palestinian state is a main goal of the talks, they are at odds over Israel decision not to extend its temporary construction freeze in West Bank settlements after it expires next week.

U.S. concerned talks will collapse over settlement row

The United States is concerned that the negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians could collapse in the coming days over the dead end in the talks on the settlement building freeze.

America's ambassador to Israel, James Cunningham, on Monday told European Union envoys in a briefing that the Obama administration's worry stems from the fact that both sides are holding steadfast to their positions.

European diplomats say Cunningham stressed during the briefing there is still no solution to the deadlock. The U.S. ambassador added that the Obama administration was pressuring both Israel and the Palestinians to reach an agreement on the issue.

Cunningham also reportedly said there are a number of ideas for a resolution that the U.S. has not put forth as a mediating solution.

"We will offer a bridging proposal only if the two sides ask for it, and that has still not happened," the U.S. ambassador told his European colleagues. "We are very concerned that there is not much time left for finding a solution."

Cunningham said that because of the lack of clarity as to the deadline of the settlement construction hiatus, American legal experts examined the matter with Israel and concluded the freeze ends at midnight September 25.

Several European diplomats said the American ambassador stressed that without a resolution on this issue, there will be no way to progress in the negotiations.

The American ambassador expressed the U.S. administration's genuine concern "the negotiations will not survive the weekend," said a European diplomat present at the briefing.

Another European diplomat, however, said after the briefing that the American ambassador was not particularly pessimistic, but "merely described the situation as it is." Efforts continued yesterday in Washington and New York to sidestep a crisis in the talks. President Shimon Peres met with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in New York and asked him not to leave the talks because of an end to the halt in construction.

"You cannot demand from Netanyahu things he cannot do for political reasons," Peres told Abbas. "It is possible to find a creative way of preventing the expansion of construction. The negotiations are more important than this or that home, and this should not bring the talks down."