Deputy Prime Minister and Interior Minister Silvan Shalom has been made responsible for talks with the Palestinians, according to sources close to the minister.
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Shalom has never publicly supported the principle of two states for two peoples, and has even expressed his opposition to a Palestinian state, and his support for West Bank settlement construction on a number of occasions.
According to sources close to Shalom, Netanyahu promised the minister he would be responsible for negotiations with the Palestinians during recent talks to expand Netanyahu's new cabinet.
Shalom's appointment was first reported on Israel Radio. Sources in the Prime Minister's Office confirmed that Shalom will handle negotiations with the Palestinians if they are renewed, just like Tzipi Livni did before him in that position in the previous government. Yitzhak Molcho will continue to serve as the prime minister's special envoy to the Palestinian Authority, the sources said.
The responsibility Shalom was given is an empty title at this stage. The peace process has been deeply stalled since talks with the Palestinians exploded in April 2014 and remained stuck. Last year, contact with the Palestinians was mostly handled by Yoav (Poli) Mordechai, IDF coordinator of government activities in the territories. On a few isolated occasions it was handled by Israeli negotiator Yitzhak Molcho. These talks did not deal with renewing peace negotiations, but with ongoing issues, such as tax revenues.
Unlike Tzipi Livni who supported a two-state solution and pushed for a deal with the Palestinians, Shalom has never expressed his support for the establishment of a Palestinian state. An examination of his comments on the subject over the past six years shows that he has taken a hawkish stance on anything related to the peace process.
For instance in March 2009 during coalition negotiations after the Israeli election, Shalom told Reuters that Netanyahu was against the establishment of a Palestinian state. "I don't see a way now to announce in advance that the final outcome will be an independent Palestinian state," he said. "That's something that should be discussed. To think that if now Mr. Netanyahu would ... say 'two-state solution' and it would immediately bring a peace treaty, I think it's something that is unrealistic," he added. Three months later Netanyahu gave the landmark "Bar-Ilan speech," in which he accepted the principle of a two-state solution.
Shalom was against the decision Netanyahu's government made in November 2009 to freeze settlement construction for 10 months. Shalom said in 2012 during a visit to Ariel in the West Bank that "freezing was a serious mistake" and called to renew construction as soon as the freeze was over. "To decide on a freeze even before negotiations and to give the Bar-Ilan speech before negotiations, what is left to discuss in the negotiations?"
In October 2011 Shalom said in an interview to the B'sheva newspaper that there was no agreement in the government or in the Likud to the principle of two states for two peoples. He said then that there was no decision of the government, the cabinet or Netanyahu's Likud party on the matter. Shalom even said in an interview that in his opinion if an agreement including the establishment of a Palestinian state were brought to a vote in Likud, it wouldn't pass.
In May 2012, during a meeting with Likud activists in the city of Rehovot, Shalom said the heads of the Likud are opposed to the founding of a Palestinian state. "We are all against a Palestinian state, there is no question about it."
In September 2014, during a tour with the heads of the Yesha council of settlements, Shalom said that "Judea and Samaria are the bullet-proof vest of the State of Israel." In recent months, it was Shalom who held up for a long time the new West Bank city of Rawabi being connected to the water supply. He did this despite the fact that Israel's defense establishment had approved hooking up the new metropolis.
Those close to Shalom also said that Netanyahu placed the minister in charge of the Israeli delegation that will attend the yearly strategic dialogue meeting Israel has with the U.S. This strategic dialogue is intended to be a key diplomacy and defense coordination meeting between the two countries, although in recent years it has become little more than a ceremonial and symbolic forum.
The reason for this was that every time that a new government was established the responsibility for the yearly strategic dialogue was handed to a ministers who wasn't the foreign minister. This was done as a political reward, as part of the coalition negotiations. In the last government, Minister Yuval Steinitz fulfilled this role, and in the one before that it was then-Transport Minister Shaul Mofaz.