The Palestinian Authority is a partner that wants only to receive, and not give anything in return, Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon said on Tuesday during a visit to northern Israel to observe a Golani Brigade exercise.
Ya'alon said that Israel is in the midst of a crisis with the Palestinians regarding the peace process. In recent months, Ya'alon said, the PA has told Israel that it is not prepared to discuss recognition of a Jewish state or giving up the right of return.
“I'm not a prophet of doom, I'm a realist,” Ya'alon said. “Unfortunately, on this issue, I find myself saying repeatedly, 'I told you so.' I wish the situation was different.”
“Every time, the Palestinians run away and try to blame us,” Ya'alon said. “On Passover, we need to free ourselves from mental enslavement to irrelevant concepts on the Israeli-Palestinian matter.”
At a special recess Knesset session called by the opposition to discuss the faltering peace process on Monday, Deputy Minister Ofir Akunis (Likud) said, “The Palestinians have turned extortion into an art form and they know no bounds.”
Akunis leveled harsh criticism at the PA, saying, “Every time the talks seem to make progress the Palestinian leaders bolt, essentially spitting in the Americans' faces. Israel has taken far-reaching steps to facilitate the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. If the Palestinians seek unilateral moves, Israel will be free to do so as well.”
Akunis further denounced the way Labor and Meretz “automatically side with the Palestinians, without exercising any judgment or having any clear understanding of reality.”
The tumultuous Knesset session saw the opposition criticize Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for the stalemate in the peace talks.
Addressing the Knesset plenum, Meretz Chairwoman MK Zehava Gal-On said, “We have a government that holds negotiations meant to facilitate solely the political survival of the coalition partners. Does it make any sense to have a foreign minister [Avigdor Lieberman] whose policies zigzag? Two months ago, he supported the outline presented by [U.S. Secretary of State John] Kerry and now he opposes it. The same goes for the prisoner release, which he supported in the past and now he opposes.”
Gal-On further criticized Finance Minister Yair Lapid (Yesh Atid) and Justice Minister Tzipi Livni (Hatnuah) for not resigning from the government despite pledging to do so if it failed to promote the peace process. She accused them of facilitating Netanyahu's government, saying that they “only care about their seats.”
Opposition Leader MK Isaac Herzog (Labor) chose to address Lieberman's recent suggestion to hold early elections saying, “I don't think Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman's idea of holding early elections is a threat. It is a true solution that will enable the State of Israel to resolve the stalemates created by the government on a variety of issues.
“If Lieberman wants elections — let's hold elections. We are standing on the precipice of a volcano and the public doesn't understand how serious the situation really is. The prime minister, who cannot seem to do anything, is to blame. The entire [peace] process has collapsed because Netanyahu cannot take real steps toward peace. I urge Yesh Atid and Hatnuah to resign from the government and join us,” Herzog said.
Lieberman, who is currently on a state visit to the United States, visited the Russian-Jewish community in Brooklyn Monday and said, “I cannot rule out the possibility that one day Israel will have a Russian-speaking prime minister.”
The comment was made as part of a speech in which Lieberman described Israel as the land of opportunity, where immigrants like him are able to make their way to top government positions, but the current political climate has lent the remark some importance. In the past, Lieberman himself said that he has yet to rule out the possibility of one day vying for the premiership.
Meanwhile, Environmental Protection Minister Amir Peretz echoed fellow Hatnuah MK Amram Mitzna's call for the party to exit the government if the current round of peace talks fails.
“We are not threatened by talk of early elections,” Peretz said Monday. “As long as there is hope for the peace process we will remain in the government. Netanyahu has to decide whether he will capitulate to the extreme right or make some difficult but brave decision, such as placing a moratorium on settlement construction. We have to do something before there is no turning back, because it will have far-reaching consequences. The Israeli public knows that we at Hatnuah have led the government through an important process that has bolstered Israel's status [worldwide] and we intend to continue to fight [for peace]. Political positions take second place.”
Interior Minister Gideon Sa'ar (Likud) criticized the statements made by Hatnuah MKs, calling them “irresponsible and harmful” and saying, “Instead of attacking the Palestinians for making unilateral moves and for impeding the peace process [Hatnuah MKs] chose to present the government and the prime minister with a list of demands. This is a time for all members of the coalition to back the government.”
Meanwhile, the Israeli and Palestinian negotiating teams, headed by Livni and chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat, as well as American mediator Martin Indyk, met on Monday.
A Palestinian official privy to the talks told Israel Hayom that “despite the fact no significant breakthrough has been made at this time to resolve the current crisis, the meeting was productive, unlike the two prevision meetings, where Livni mostly threatened that Israel will impose sanctions on the Palestinian Authority and its officials.”
The Arab League has convened an emergency meeting in Cairo for Wednesday, which will discuss the stalemate in the peace talks. A senior Palestinian source said that Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas plans to ask Arab League members for their diplomatic and financial backing, in the event that Israel or the U.S. will impose sanctions on the PA.
Palestinian officials said Monday that despite the difficulties to bridge the gaps in the negotiations, it is too early to say that the current round of talks has deadlocked.
A senior Palestinian official told Israel Hayom that U.S. State Department officials have spoken with Arab League Secretary-General Nabil Elaraby and other top Arab diplomats in hope of convincing them to support extending the peace talks.
A Palestinian official was quoted by the Palestinian Al Quds newspaper as saying that the Palestinians have already decided to extend the talks by two months, to facilitate a plan that will clearly define the borders of the a Palestinian state.
PLO Executive Committee Secretary-General Yasser Abed Rabbo meanwhile, told Voice of Palestine radio that the PA is unlikely to rescind its applications to join 15 international organizations and conventions.
A new poll published on Tuesday found that 87% of Israelis think the chances are low that a U.S.-brokered framework peace deal will be reached with the Palestinians in the coming months
According to the monthly Peace Index poll of the Israel Democracy Institute and Tel Aviv University, 52% of Israelis think it is currently urgent to reach an agreement with the Palestinians, while 45% believe it is not.
This survey, conducted on March 30-31, included 600 respondents who constitute a representative sample of the adult population of Israel. The margin of error was 4.1%.