Barak: Ministers' Provocative Statements Harm Israel's Interests

Defense Minister Ehud Barak has called on ministers to avoid statements that harm relations with the United States, as tensions rise in the cabinet over proximity talks with the Palestinians and construction in East Jerusalem.

Barak's statement yesterday follows those of Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman to Haaretz, published yesterday, that there is no agreement to freeze construction in East Jerusalem and now was not the time for talks; Interior Minister Eli Yishai's (Shas ) saying Israel will build anywhere in Jerusalem; and Public Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch's (Yisrael Beiteinu ) statement that illegal Palestinian buildings would be demolished soon.

In an interview yesterday in the Shas newspaper Meyom Leyom, Yishai said: "We will build anywhere in Jerusalem, the eternal capital of the homeland of the Jewish people, and I made this clear to our colleagues and our friends, the Americans."

According to Yishai, the Jerusalem Planning and Building Committee would convene soon; however, visits to the region by senior American officials would be taken into consideration in setting a date, so as not to embarrass the officials or damage the peace process.

On Wednesday, Aharonovitch said: "There have been periods in which the government thought the timing was not right [for demolition of illegal Palestinian housing] because of the diplomatic process. The orders were not erased; they were delayed. Now there is no obstacle, and they will indeed be carried out in the coming days," Aharonovitch said.

Yesterday afternoon Barak issued a statement: "Attacks by senior ministers against attempts by the United States to push forward the peace process and harsh attacks against the heads of the Palestinian Authority damage the peace process, which is at a very delicate stage."

Barak also said that statements regarding construction in Jerusalem damage attempts to create good faith between Israel and the Palestinians.

"I advise everyone, both us and the Palestinians, to avoid rabble-rousing and provocative statements," said the defense minster. "These statements damage Israel's interests vis-a-vis the United States and the entire world. They could present Israel as opposing peace and thus erode its international standing."

Calling Barak's statement "cheap spin," Aharonovitch's associates said that "the police will carry out everything they have been assigned by the courts in Israel. The rule of law is not a tool for geostrategic and political debate in the Middle East. We are under the aegis of the attorney general and the Israeli government and will act in accordance with their decisions."

Criticism of ministerial statements supporting construction in East Jerusalem came from Industry, Trade and Labor Minister Benjamin Ben-Eliezer (Labor ) yesterday: "Despite the American efforts to bring about calm and the beginning of dialogue, unfortunately, we hear ministers, among them senior ministers, expressing themselves on the most delicate issues, including Jerusalem."