"The Palestinians should come to their senses and enter negotiations as soon as possible," said Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu
in Sunday's cabinet meeting.
The prime minister also said that US special envoy to the Middle East George Mitchell will remain in Israel
an extra day "in order to coordinate an effort to jumpstart the peace process."
Netanyahu briefed the cabinet ministers of his meeting
with Mitchell and US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who ensured Netanyahu on Saturday that a settlement building freeze will not be a precondition to renewing negotiations, despite Palestinian demands to the contrary. "We had a very good, long, and serious meeting with the secretary of state," he said.
"We are making a concerted effort to renew negotiations. This is not the effort of a moment. We have been making these efforts since the government was formed," said Netanyahu.
Netanyahu mentioned the steps taken by his government to this end: "We did things that have not been done by any prior government. We removed hundreds of road blocks and checkpoints. We have taken steps to ease their lives and the Palestinian economy. The result of this is unprecedented prosperity in the Palestinian Authority."
"I put forth a vision for peace at Bar Ilan that revolves around the principles that unify the vast majority of the country's citizens," said Netanyahu, "a vision that you can run with to reach a real solution. We also expressed willingness to do unprecedented things in order to jumpstart the peace process, and the Americans understand this willingness very well.
Netanyahu with Minister Shalom (L) during Sunday's cabinet meeting (Photo: AFP)
"On the other hand, we are encountering the opposite trend. While we are in the process of allowing for negotiations and their development, we are faced with preconditions being stipulated by the Palestinians that have not been posted since the beginning of the peace process 16 years ago."
Vice Prime Minister Silvan Shalom said, "We did not ask any prime minister in the past to freeze the settlements. Therefore, there is no reason to ask this of Netanyahu. I very much do not support a partial freeze. This did not prevent either Ehud or Barak from offering 97-98% of the territory. Therefore, we must come to any negotiations without preconditions.
Science and Technology Minister Daniel Hershkowitz said: "The American administration understands now what we have been saying for some time – that the real barrier to talks is the Palestinians. Even the US understands that freezing the settlements is not a precondition for talks. We need to start talking, and we are prepared to talk, even though, unfortunately, the other side is not."
The picture looks a bit different from Ramallah. Palestinian sources said to Ynet that the Palestinian Authority understood from Hillary Clinton's associates that she has not adopted Israel's stance regarding the settlements.
"The Americans are trying to convince us that the issue of the settlements must not be made into a big deal and a precondition, but they are continuing to take action to convince the Israelis to halt building in the settlements alongside efforts to renew negotiations," said a senior Palestinian source to Ynet.
According to the source, the Americans are interested in renewing talks and understand that the any remaining Palestinian trust will be critically damaged in the absence of a settlement building moratorium.
"We understood from the Americans that they sought to help Netanyahu in the face of his government on the settlement issue. However, we also understood that they are determined to take advocate for a settlement freeze, including Jerusalem," said the source.
Ali Waked contributed to this report