Kahlon: Rumors of Israel's Regional Diplomatic Breakthrough Are More Than Just Hints to Media

Finance minister says chance for a significant change in direction exists on regional level, calls on opposition leader Herzog to join the government.

Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon, left, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Reuters

Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon, the leader of the Kulanu party, suggested that the chance of a major diplomatic breakthrough for Israel on a regional level is more than just rumor. Speaking in Netanya on Wednesday, he called on Zionist Union leader Isaac Herzog to join the coalition government to advance the peace process, urging him "not to miss the historic window of opportunity that has been created. You don't conduct a peace process and don't create change from the opposition," Kahlon said.

"The rumors and talk of a substantial diplomatic process in our region are based on a lot more than just hints in the newspapers. There is the possibility of a significant change in direction on a regional level," he said.

In addressing his remarks to Herzog, Kahlon made reference to diplomatic possibilities that would open up if the Zionist Union were to join Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's government. "This is not the time or place to go into detail, but we have a rare opportunity for a significant change in direction on a regional level. The holding of a regional conference in connection with which all of the interested parties in the region would be represented,is an important, desirable and proper plan. The Kulanu party and I will support it and we will advance it with all our strength."

"Such a conference," he added, will change the rules of the game, will open additional channels to diplomatic progress and contain [the means] to extract the relations between us and our neighbors from the stalemate that they are in. Such a step will be a significant stimulus to the additional expansion of the coalition, and I don't think the Zionist Union can refrain from taking part in such a challenge."

Addressing relations with the Palestinians, Kahlon said: "As is known, I am in close and continuous contact with the senior cabinet ministers of the Palestinian Authority. We are making major efforts to strengthen the Palestinian economy. We will continue to strengthen ties between ourselves and the Palestinians and will base them on a healthy economy. Past experience teaches that the seeds that we lay on the economic level also reach the diplomatic and security level."

Prime Minister Netanyahu also commented on the diplomatic process in comments at a ceremony in the north at the Bar-Ilan University medical school in Safed. "We are not ceasing to look for paths to peace, including using the assistance of other countries in the region. The path to peace is not via international conferences that attempt to force a settlement, that make the Palestinian demands more extreme and in the process distance peace. The path to peace is via direct negotiations and without preconditions between the parties. That's how it was in the past when we achieved peace with Egypt and also with Jordan and that's how it needs to be with the Palestinians," he said.

"If the countries gathering this week in Paris really want to advance peace, they should join my call to Abu Mazen [Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas] to come to such direct negotiations. That's the path to peace. There is no other way."

On Monday, Avigdor Lieberman, the head of the Yisrael Beiteinu party, which just joined the coalition, on being sworn in as defense minister, spoke of his own support for the peace process. "I have spoken on more than one occasion about recognition of two states," he said referring to the establishment of a Palestinian state alongside Israel, a policy that Netanyahu outlined in a speech at Bar-Ilan University in 2009.

"I very much supported the Bar-Ilan speech," Lieberman said. And referring to remarks last month by Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah al-Sissi about the opportunity to achieve peace between Israel and the Palestinians, he added: "Sissi's speech was very important and created a real opportunity which obligates us to take up the gauntlet."

For his part, Netanyahu told the Knesset at the session at which Lieberman was sworn in as defense minister: "I am committed to achieve peace with our Palestinian neighbors and with all our neighbors."

Referring to the Arab League peace initiative of 2002, the prime minister added: “The Arab peace initiative includes essential components that can assist in rehabilitating constructive negotiations with the Palestinians. We are prepared to conduct negotiations with Arab states on updating the initiative in a way that will reflect the dramatic changes since 2002 and maintain the agreed upon goal of two states for two peoples.” And Netanyahu added: "We welcome Sissi's recent speech and his readiness to advance peace in the region."