Ministers: Netanyahu Keeping Us in the Dark on Peace Talks, Freeze

'We don't know where we stand' says Vice Premier Silvan Shalom, 'doing things without discussion is inappropriate.'

Several ministers challenged Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the weekly cabinet meeting on Sunday, claiming he was concealing information about the newly relaunched peace talks and the future of the settlement construction freeze.

Netanyahu at cabinet meeting September 5, 2010 Michal Fattal
Michal Fattal

"We don't know where we stand," Regional Development Minister Silvan Shalom said. "Doing things without discussion is inappropriate. I don't remember such a thing happening before."

Other ministers complained Netanyahu was keeping the cards too close and wasn't briefing them about the negotiations.

The prime minister cut the discussion short at this point, but not before some of the ministers voiced support for his strategy.

"There's an understanding within the government that there's no point in starting arguments about the framework of the agreement with the Palestinians," one of the ministers said. "We understand the tremendous importance of the very fact that negotiations are taking place, and we decided to loosen the prime minister's rope a little to let him run the negotiations discreetly."

"All this is only valid until there are concrete agreements with the Palestinians that we need to approve, or decisions about the construction freeze," the minister said.

The peace talks with the Palestinians were relaunched in Washington last week. The settlement construction freeze is due to expire later this month.

At a meeting with Likud ministers later on Sunday, Netanyahu said he intends to run the negotiations discreetly and will not allow any media leaks while they are going on.

Israel announced on Sunday that it is considering calling off the meeting between the Israeli and Palestinian negotiating team scheduled to be held in Jericho on Monday, after news of the meeting was leaked to the press.

Diplomatic sources on Sunday accused the Palestinians of leaking the date of the meeting, and said the discretion on which the parties agreed in Washington was meant to prevent much more sensitive information from getting out. As part of Israeli attempts to conceal the meeting dates, there was no response regarding whether a meeting was indeed scheduled for Jericho on Monday.

Speaking at his party's Rosh Hashana celebration on Sunday, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman said he does not believe the direct talks with the Palestinians would bring a general peace agreement.

"A general peace agreement is unattainable - not next year and not within the next generation," he told Yisrael Beiteinu activists at the Rimonim Hotel in Jerusalem.

"A general peace agreement, which means an end to the conflict, a lack of mutual demands and acknowledging Israel as the nation state of the Jewish people, is an unattainable goal. No historic and painful compromises are going to help," he said.

Lieberman said the goal should be a long-term interim agreement instead.

"We will not agree to continue the construction freeze," he added.

"The say [Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas] Abu Mazen is against terrorism and won't fight Israel. I agree but it's not enough, because he will never sign a peace agreement with Israel. At most, he'll threaten to resign," said Lieberman.

"But don't worry - Abu Mazen won't fight, won't sign and won't resign. This is why the only practical solution is a long-term interim agreement, and we can talk about that," he said.

Abbas himself repeated on Sunday that he will stop the negotiations if Israel resumes construction in the settlements. Speaking to PLO activists in Libya, Abbas said that if the freeze does not continue beyond the end of September, "there won't be negotiations."

Meanwhile, senior Fatah official Mohammed Dahlan called Netanyahu a "crook," according to the Egyptian daily Al-Masry Al-Youm. Netanyahu would destroy what's left of the peace process and bring regional destruction, the newspaper reported.

The Israeli prime minister is not interested in peace and wants to destroy the two-state solution, he reportedly told the paper.

The Palestinian Authority opposes the Israeli demand that a future Palestinian state be demilitarized, he reportedly said, adding that the Palestinians are not interested in planes or tanks.

Dahlan's aides later told Israeli journalists that his words were "taken out of context."

The Israeli and Palestinian leaders are planning to hold talks with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in Jerusalem this month, U.S. officials said yesterday.

According to the officials, Clinton will be joining Netanyahu and Abbas in Jerusalem on September 15, a day after the leaders are scheduled to meet in the Sinai resort of Sharm el-Sheikh.