Shalom said he was protesting the fact that some of the Likud ministers had not been briefed on the stand Israel would be presenting during the talks. He estimated that the issues on the agenda would not just amount to ceremonies and would also touch on fundamental issues requiring a discussion attended by all party ministers.
Netanyahu, on his part, stressed that the government's stand on the settlement construction freeze had not changed and that Israel would continue building in the West Bank when the moratorium ends.
He addressed plans presented in recent weeks by Ministers Dan Meridor and Michael Eitan, who said the construction should be only be renewed in the settlement blocs, clarifying that these were personal initiatives which did not represent the government's opinion.
Speaking at the cabinet meeting shortly afterwards, Netanyahu said, "We insisted that the talks would be held without preconditions, and that's what happened. Our goal is to advance a peace agreement based on the recognition of Israel as the Jewish people's nation state, end the conflict and put an end to the demands from Israel in a bid to form real security arrangements, which would guarantee that the situation in Judea and Samaria won't resemble what happened in Lebanon and Gaza."
The prime minister expressed his hope that "the Palestinian leadership will show the same level of seriousness as we do. If so, we will be able to advance to a stable peace agreement and to stability in the entire region.
"I am aware of the difficulties, I'm not downplaying them, but I know that we will face many obstacles. The question is whether the Palestinians are willing to establish peace for the future generations or just reach a tactical pause. I hope their aspiration for peace is based on recognition and security, stability and economic growth. This is my goal, and I hope it's the Palestinians' goal too."
Barak: Labor's problem internal struggles
Earlier, Labor ministers met for a stormy discussion as well. Minister Ben-Eliezer criticized fellow minister, Avishay Braverman, over the letter he sent to the prime minister, saying that this was not the time to threaten to quit the coalition but rather to time to support the government during the negotiations.
Braverman, on his part, demanded a clear stand from the Labor Party in regards to the peace talks, before Netanyahu's departure to Washington.
"Our interest is to put the core issues, the borders and the security arrangements on the agenda, rather than the settlements. It's unthinkable that elements interested in thwarting the negotiations will voice their opinion while we're sitting on the fence."
Defense Minister and Labor Chairman Ehud Barak used the meeting to discuss the growing tensions. "Ten years ago, when I returned from Camp David, Olmert, Livni, Peres and Burg said I had gone too far," he said.
"I did not change my opinions, everyone joined them. The Labor Party has a way. Its problem is not the way, but the internal struggles."
Barak complained that as part of those struggles, elements in the party have been trying to shift the responsibility for the "Galant document" affair over to him.
"The former party secretary-general and the former Young Labor chairman are all waving signs against me, although it has been proved that I had nothing to do with those things," he noted, ruling that "this conduct determines what is happening in the Labor Party."
Ronen Medzini contributed to this report
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