Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman said peace talks starting next week are unlikely to meet their target of an agreement within a year and that Israel won’t extend a settlement freeze as demanded by Palestinians.
“It’s clear that with two sides so different in their nature, outlook and approach, it’s difficult to talk about reaching a peace agreement within a year,” Lieberman told Israel Radio today. “I think the more we lower expectations, the healthier it will be.”
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced last week that she and President Barack Obama have invited Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to Washington to meet face to face and formally open a new round of direct talks with the goal of achieving an accord within 12 months.
The negotiations come after Israel and the Palestinians have failed to bridge differences over the past decade on such final-status issues as West Bank settlements, the fate of Palestinian refugees and the future political status of Jerusalem.
Lieberman said Israel won’t agree to a Palestinian demand to extend a 10-month moratorium in new construction in West Bank settlements due to expire on Sept. 26. “The Palestinians had 10 months to come to negotiations; that they came in the last month is their problem,” Lieberman told Israel Radio.
Lieberman’s Yisrael Beitanu party is the second-biggest faction in Netanyahu’s Likud-led coalition and has opposed past efforts to reach agreement with the Palestinians.
Palestinian chief negotiator Saeb Erakat said in Ramallah yesterday that if Israel didn’t extend the freeze, his side would break off talks. “If Mr. Netanyahu decides to produce new settlement tenders come Sept. 26, we will decide to stop negotiations,” Erakat said.
The public council that represents Jewish settlement communities in the West Bank issued a statement today, telling Netanyahu that if he does extend the freeze, they will seek to politically topple his government.
“If we are not given the legal rights to actually build homes for our families and children, we cannot allow a situation where this coalition will continue to govern,” said settlement council head Naftali Bennett.
Two U.S. officials are scheduled to arrive in Israel today to prepare the groundwork for the talks, the Haaretz newspaper reported. National Security Council staffer Daniel Shapiro and David Hale, a deputy to special Middle East envoy George Mitchell, may try to hold a three-way meeting with Israeli and Palestinian officials, Haaretz said, quoting an unidentified U.S. official.
Direct Israeli-Palestinian negotiations were suspended when Israel launched a military operation in the Gaza Strip in December 2008 in what it said was an attempt to stop rocket attacks from the Hamas-controlled territory on its southern towns and cities.
The Islamic movement, which is considered a terrorist organization by the U.S., the European Union and Israel, fired about 3,200 rockets and mortars into Israel in 2008, according to the Israeli army.
Hamas seized full control of Gaza in 2007 after winning parliamentary elections the previous year, ending a partnership government with Abbas’s Fatah party.
To contact the reporter on this story: Calev Ben-David in Jerusalem at firstname.lastname@example.org