Is Habayit Hayehudi on a collision course with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu over the resumption of peace talks with the Palestinians? A day after US Secretary of State John Kerry announced the resumption of peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians, the head of one of the largest factions in the coalition expressed his satisfaction that the talks would be held without preconditions. "Insisting on our principles has paid off. (There is) no (settlement construction) freeze, and of course no detached demand to conduct (negotiations) on the basis of the 1967 lines," said Economy and Trade Minister Naftali Bennett, chairman of the Habayit Hayehudi party.
Bennett said Saturday that "with the launching of negotiations, we will insist that construction continue in Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria. History has taught us that building brings life, while the evacuation of communities brings terror." The minister added that "in light of the recent events," Israel will not agree to the participation of the Europeans in the negotiations. Bennett was referring the European Union's recent decision to publish new guidelines limiting interaction with Israeli entities beyond the pre-1967 lines. The minister said the Europe could not be a "fair mediator" in the talks.
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The Wall Street Journal quoted a senior Palestinian official as saying on Saturday that the Israeli government has agreed to quietly halt building in Jewish West Bank settlements, but would not make any public announcement to that effect.
The Palestinian official said that on Friday Kerry also relayed to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas a commitment made by Prime Minister Netanyahu to release several Palestinian prisoners even before the first day of peace talks, scheduled to take place in Washington next week.
He told WSJ that Kerry gave Abbas his "own guarantee" that peace talks will resume on the basis of the 1967 lines.
Kerry announces resumption of talks (Video: Reuters)
PM Netanyahu's spokesman Mark Regev told the American newspaper he could not confirm or deny the report. Netanyahu himself issued a statement later saying the negotiations are a "vital strategic interest of the State of Israel" and are meant to "try and bring an end to the conflict between us and the Palestinians." The peace talks are also important "in light of the challenges we are facing, mainly from Iran and Syria."
"I have in mind a number of objectives," Netanyahu said, "preventing the creation of a bi-national state between the Jordan River and the sea, which will endanger the future of the Jewish State, and preventing the creation of another Iranian-backed terrorist state within Israel's borders, which could no less endanger us."
"I will insist on Israel's security demands and on its essential interests," he said.
Housing and Construction Minister Uri Ariel, from Habayit Hayehudi, said Saturday that if the reports in the foreign press regarding Netanyahu's agreement to freeze settlement construction are true, "this would be a severe mistake that joins the decision to release terrorists, which jeopardizes Israel's security.
"I won't lend a hand to an immoral and non-Jewish act that will allow a (construction) freeze in Jerusalem and the (settlements), and I will act to exercise my authority as housing minister to increase the supply of (apartments) in the desired places," he added.
The chairman of the Knesset's Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, MK Avigdor Lieberman, said Saturday that "it is important to negotiate and even more important to have negotiations based on reality without delusions."
"I have said many times that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is unsolvable, and what is possible and important to do is manage the conflict," he said. According to him, "the best result we can aim for is a long-term interim agreement based on security and economic cooperation."
Tourism Minister Uzi Landau (Yisrael Beitenu) told Ynet that "the Israeli consent to release prisoners is a mistake. We must learn from past mistakes and not make any gestures before negotiations begin."
Although Netanyahu and his spokesmen insisted there would be no preconditions for the renewal of negotiations, Minister Landau expressed doubt: "I am not convinced there are no undisclosed understandings between Israel and the Americans in regards to Israel's gestures."
According to Landau, "there is an Israeli interest to negotiate," however he clarified: "The release of prisoners troubles me. When you enter negotiations, you need to know what the dialogue is about. We must learn from the Americans, who do not release prisoners and do not release murderers. If anyone expects us to announce we are leaving the government, he shouldn't wait. We still don't know what is behind these statements."
Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon said negotiating is an Israeli interest. "We have expressed our willingness to negotiate immediately, anywhere, and without preconditions. We insisted on entering negotiations without preconditions, which included Palestinian demands to declare the 1967 borders, freezing of construction and release of prisoners," he said.
Attila Somfalvi contributed to the report
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