Industry, Trade and Labor Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer estimated Tuesday that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu would be willing to evict settlements in favor of the peace process.
Ben-Eliezer, who is filling in for Defense Minister Ehud Barak while he is in New York for the UN General Assembly, told Ynet that "Netanyahu and I go back a long time. I meet with him once a week. More than anything, he wants to go come out of these negotiations with a peace agreement.
"If the moment arrives he will evict settlements. Netanyahu doesn’t talk about it, but I believe he will be willing to do that – and more – if necessary."
According to Ben-Eliezer, the prime minister is also focused on resolving Israel's most pressing problem, namely the Iranian threat, which requires him to create breakthroughs in both the Palestinian and Syrian avenues.
The minister also accused Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas of political cowardice: "Abu Mazen is scared to death. The problem is not the settlements and I can guarantee that. The Arab nations and the PA are deathly afraid of radical Islam, which pressures them not to talk to Israel.
"I don’t think Abu Mazen has what it takes, the mental strength, to sit across the negotiating table from us."
Ben-Eliezer hinted that the American pressure on Israel to halt settlement construction led to the recent impasse with the Palestinians: "The Americans made a big mistake. They drove us into an impossible situation, because once they said 'a total freeze', Abu Mazen can't afford to ask for anything less."
The best laid plans
When asked if US President Barack Obama's efforts to push the Israeli-Palestinian peace process were doing more harm than good, the minister replied: "Obama thinks he can prompt the regional process and bring about a dramatic change, but the Americans are slowly coming to their senses.
"The Arabs turned down all of his requests for goodwill gestures towards Israel, but nevertheless, if Obama made it clear to Abu Mazen that time is not on his side, he might be able to get him back to the negotiating table."
Ben-Eliezer still believes in the two-state solution: "The thing that makes the meeting in New York so important is the fact that it's actually taking place, meaning we went from a 'no way' situation to a meeting… I truly believe this meeting can reignite the talks."
Ben-Eliezer also countered the Labor Party's criticism of Netanyahu, especially Social Affairs Minister Isaac Herzog's recent urging of the party to pull from the coalition if the former failed to resume peace talks, saying it was the wrong time to make such a statement.
"I hear him, but I just don’t understand. You can't (politically) threaten the prime minister when he's not here. It's not a healthy thing.
"I think Netanyahu is doing everything he can. You have to remember – he was elected by the Right and the far right. No one expected he would agree to a Palestinian state, to their right to a flag, an anthem and clear borders – but he did. We have to support him. That's what Labor is for."