Israel is ready to make concessions to reach peace with the Palestinians and is seeking help from Qatar and other Gulf Arab countries to get talks restarted, according to the cabinet minister who would lead negotiations.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas “is someone that we can talk with,” said Silvan Shalom, who was appointed deputy premier and interior minister after Israel’s March elections, with the added role of leading any revived peace talks with the Palestinians.
“I think we can deal with him and reach an agreement if he is willing to make that strategic decision to make a compromise,” Shalom, 56, said during an interview at his Jerusalem office. One concession would be forsaking any pre-conditions to restart talks, including the insistence that Israel stops building settlements in the West Bank, he said. He didn’t say what compromises Israel was prepared to make.
Shalom is a senior figure in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud Party and is regarded as one of the premier’s potential successors. His guarded optimism stands in contrast with other top Israeli officials, including Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon, who said last week he doesn’t see a stable arrangement with the Palestinians happening in his lifetime. Officials from the two sides trade blame for the collapse of U.S.-brokered peace talks a year ago.
Since then, Palestinians have pursued initiatives to gain international recognition for their state while seeking to isolate Israel.
Israel’s general elections led to a closer alliance between the Likud and the Jewish Home party of Education Minister Naftali Bennett, who opposes Palestinian statehood. On the eve of the vote, Netanyahu said no Palestinian state would arise on his watch. He later reiterated his commitment to peace but has expressed doubt over the Palestinian Authority’s willingness to negotiate.
Shalom, while declining to commit himself to a two-state solution, said that “in any kind of final-status agreement we need to make compromises, both sides.”
He said Israel is trying to revive the peace process in contacts with the U.S., as well as with leaders and diplomats from Europe, Asia and Arab nations. “We are talking to them before they go to Ramallah in order to tell them that we would like to resume negotiations.”
One way of breaking the peace logjam, he said, would be through a regional conference bringing the Palestinians and Israel together with those Arab nations with which it has either diplomatic relations or shared interests.
Israel is trying to use contacts with Egypt, Jordan, Qatar and other Gulf countries to revive peace talks, said Shalom, who paid a rare Israeli ministerial visit to Abu Dhabi, the capital of the United Arab Emirates, when he attended an international renewable energy conference there last year.
Qatar has proposed that Hamas, the Islamic movement that rules the Gaza Strip, agree to a five-year truce with Israel, the Saudi-owned Asharq Al-Awsat reported Monday, citing unidentified Palestinian officials with knowledge of the matter. In exchange, Israel would ease its blockade of Gaza and agree to the establishment of a floating port off the territory’s Mediterranean coast under international supervision, the newspaper said.
Shalom has held several top cabinet posts, including stints as foreign and finance minister. He was born in Tunisia to a family that moved to Israel a year after his birth.
As energy minister in 2014, he oversaw the signing of Israel’s first gas export deal to Jordan, and says it is now crucial for the country to begin developing Leviathan, its largest offshore natural gas field.
Leviathan’s development has been delayed by regulatory issues, and Shalom plans to support a government proposal in the cabinet this week that critics say will a perpetuate a monopoly on Israel’s only fossil fuel resources.
The government must decide now on Leviathan, he said, “otherwise we need to think what has to be done in order to develop it. Because in 2018, if we are not going to have it, we are not going to have enough gas.”
For more, read this QuickTake: Two-State Solution