National Infrastructure Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer said on Saturday that a strong Palestinian leader is needed to conclude a peace accord with Israel and that Israel should release former Tanzim head Marwan Barghouti from prison at an assembly for the One House movement in Tel Aviv.
"Unfortunately, people relying on Abu Mazen (Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas) don't know what he is about. I respect him and Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad. They're good people, (they) understand, but I want to achieve results. Real results and the ability to conclude a deal are only possible (when you have) a strong leader across from you." Ben-Eliezer said.
"And I believe that (this person) is sitting in Israeli jail. We must release Marwan Barghouti and I say this as the person who arrested him twice – once in '78 when I was the commander of Judea and Samaria and he was the head of the Fatah youth and the second time when I was defense minister," he added.
The infrastructure minister did not rule out a peace agreement, but said that Israel needs a Palestinian leader who is able to fulfill commitments. "It is important to speak with the moderates on the other side. It is important to discuss matters in the committees and sub-committees that have been established. I think that we have to discuss all the issues: Jerusalem, borders, land swaps – but at the end, we need someone who knows how to put in place the agreements."
Ben-Eliezer rejected remarks made by Deputy Prime Minister Haim Ramon, who spoke at the same assembly about giving compensation to West Bank settlers east of the security fence that voluntarily evacuate their homes. "Those who thinks that evacuation-compensation is the end-all-be-all is deceiving the public. Do you want to play around with laws or craft a genuine peace accord? It is possible to complain about the Labor party, but we're not trying to mislead the public.
"I don't want to only 'gain time.' I know how many people are in the West Bank and we're not taking about just the margins. Without a real peace agreement, with a broad coalition and national consensus – there will not be peace…"
The minister added that "it is true that the people of Israel are now very ready to accelerate peace negotiations, the majority are ready to go for any agreement as long as the peace will be peace."
'Israel ready for deal with Syria'
Ben-Eliezer also spoke about the possibility of a broad offensive in Gaza: "I do not support a wide-scale incursion in Gaza, it is not possible to threaten those that are ready to run to their deaths. However, we must step up the economic pressure including even a complete severance from the Strip.
"We need an accord more than the Palestinians do. I say these things as man with a security perspective – we have been in the (Palestinian) Territories for 41 years and nothing has changed," the minister said.
"I say these things because of a deep concern for the future of Israel – we don't have another country to live in," he added.
Ben-Eliezer referred to the possibility of a deal with Syria saying "there is a readiness among Israelis and their leaders to conclude a deal with Syria, but the leader over there (Syrian President Bashar al-Assad) is imprisoned as a puppet and is not a man who can make the decision.
"There is a deal between Hizbullah and Syria that they will help each other in every future struggle with Israel. This brings us to a new threat and that is why I called on (Defense Minister) Ehud Barak to stay in the government and I will fight for us to stay in the government – until our army is optimally ready for future threats."