Days before a visit by US Vice President Joe Biden, Industry, Trade and Labor Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer expressed optimism about the situation in the Middle East and said that "peace negotiations with the Palestinians will begin very soon."
A Palestinian source told the al-Quds al-Arabi newspaper that indirect negotiations mediate by the United States may be launched next week upon Biden's arrival.
According to the minister, he and his fellow Labor Party members "are making sure that the prime minister begins peace negotiations, day and night."
Speaking at a Labor activists' conference in Haifa on Friday, the minister said, "I went together with the prime minister to Egypt's President Mubarak, and I heard him repeat these words, and his commitment to peace."
Ben-Eliezer added that Israel has reached a crucial point. "They are trying to sell to the world the notion that this is an apartheid state. This is a dangerous situation, which compels us, first of all, to depart from the Palestinians after so many years of occupation.
"Fortunately, the prime minister has realized the need for this and he truly does desire peace."
The minister then spoke out against Labor Party rebels, saying, "It has been proving that they are committing political suicide." He also addressed the construction freeze in the West Bank saying, "Believe me, as someone who served as housing and construction minister, this is a total freeze, which includes areas that are an inseperable part of Israel in any future treaty."
On Thursday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu welcomed Biden's arrival, saying he hoped it would help move the peace process forward.
"I'm glad that we have made progress and things have matured," Netanyahu said at the start of the weekly cabinet meeting, which was postponed from Sunday due to the holiday of Purim. . "Our goal is direct talks, but we have always said that we won't insist on the format. We said that this government wants a peace process, and I would like to add that it also wants to complete it."