After opposing an extension of the settlement construction freeze, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made a surprising statement Monday and said Israel was willing to extend the freeze "but ultimately the US rightfully decided not go in that direction and instead decided to go ahead with an outline for gap bridging talks in order to discuss core issues."
Speaking at the weekly Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense committee meeting Netanyahu said:
"We did everything, including implement a nine month freeze and when the Palestinians got into gear towards the end of the freeze, the first issue they raised was a three month extension of the freeze.
"The truth is that Israel was prepared to extend the freeze, in spite of reports to the contrary," Netanyahu said.
The prime minister noted the discussions he held with the US ahead of the expected freeze extension: "I told Obama that I can take the issue to the cabinet and get the cabinet to pass a freeze extension and then I got a message from the Americans to forget the issue."
Netanyahu claims that "the US said that it wouldn't lead to a positive situation, rather it would lead to an endless path of freeze following freeze. And yet, I agreed to that."
He admitted that contacts with Palestinians were floundering.
Netanyahu also noted that US envoys are expected to arrive in Israel by mid-January, perhaps as early as next week "in order to close gaps and examine progress on core issues".
'I endorsed Palestinian state in 1995'
The prime minister blamed the Palestinians for the political deadlock: "No coalition agreement will stop the peace process. From the day I established the government I appealed to Abbas but received no response. I upheld the Bar-Ilan speech and we took many steps to promote the process while the Palestinians haven't moved an inch.
"I had many talks with Abbas but there has been no change and no progress in the Palestinian stance," he said.
Asked about his political plan, Netanyahu noted that he talked about a Palestinian state as early as the 1995 Likud convention.
This prompted an angry response by Opposition Chairwoman Tzipi Livni. "It’s amazing listening to you describe an alternative reality and citing it as the truth. In 2002 you announced at the Likud Central Committee that 'a yes to a Jewish state means no to the Palestinian state and that no should be the answer.' I dare you to change the Likud's official position."
Livni added, "No one believes you because you say different things in different forums and are tested according to outcomes and not your statements."
She blamed Netanyahu of causing damage to Israel's security interests and noted that his integrity is shaky on the international arena.
'Syria wants everything in advance'
Netanyahu also addressed the Syrian issue stating that "we are ready and willing for negotiations with Syria, the problem today is that Syria wants everything in advance. The Syrians demand the entire territory before they even begin negotiations. We are very interested in moving forward on that issue. There is no shortage of envoys; the problem is that they want everything before negotiations."
As for the situation in Lebanon, ahead of the publication of the report on the murder of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri, the prime minister expressed hope that the situation would become clearer: "We aren't involved in the issue and certainly have no wish to ignite the border."
The prime minister is also considering the construction of a border fence along the Jordanian border in order to battle illegal infiltration. "We might have to extend the border fence we are constructing along the Egyptian border," he said. "We're checking it out, in order to avoid infiltration from other countries. The plan is to build the fence in the Arava region along the Jordanian border."
He noted that Spain too had constructed a fence in order to prevent infiltration from North African countries. As for Egypt's efforts to prevent smuggling and infiltration, Netanyahu said: "Egypt is working to prevent smuggling – but it continues."
During the meeting, the prime minister addressed additional issues including relations with Turkey: "Efforts continue. The deterioration began a long time ago, at Peres' meeting with Erdogan in Davos. At the moment they are turning towards the Muslim world at Israel's expense. During the Carmel fire I saw a window of opportunity – with a goal of preventing IDF soldiers from being put on trial."
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