Sunday, November 1, 2009

Netanyahu at Cabinet: I hope Palestinians 'get a grip' and renew peace talks

(Haaretz,Ynet).Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu hit out Sunday at the Palestinian Authority over its demand for a complete Israeli settlement freeze before embarking on any fresh peace talks, saying he hoped the Palestinians would "get a grip" and drop this precondition.

"We've done things that have not been done until today, although while we are taking steps toward negotiations, we have encountered preconditions demanded by the Palestinian side, which were never demanded before," Netanyahu said at the start of the weekly cabinet meeting.

Netanyahu mentioned the steps taken by his government to this end: "We did things that have not been done by any prior government. We removed hundreds of road blocks and checkpoints. We have taken steps to ease their lives and the Palestinian economy. The result of this is unprecedented prosperity in the Palestinian Authority."

"I put forth a vision for peace at Bar Ilan that revolves around the principles that unify the vast majority of the country's citizens," said Netanyahu, "a vision that you can run with to reach a real solution. We also expressed willingness to do unprecedented things in order to jumpstart the peace process, and the Americans understand this willingness very well.

"On the other hand, we are encountering the opposite trend. While we are in the process of allowing for negotiations and their development, we are faced with preconditions being stipulated by the Palestinians that have not been posted since the beginning of the peace process 16 years ago."

"Beginning negotiations is important to us, but it is no less important to the Palestinians. We are committed to negotiations, and we hope that the Palestinians will lift the precondition."

The prime minister also told the cabinet that Clinton had decided that U.S. President Barack Obama's Mideast envoy, George Mitchell, would extend his current visit to the region by a number of days in order to bridge the differences between the sides.

Vice Prime Minister Silvan Shalom said, "We did not ask any prime minister in the past to freeze the settlements. Therefore, there is no reason to ask this of Netanyahu. I very much do not support a partial freeze. This did not prevent either Ehud or Barak from offering 97-98% of the territory. Therefore, we must come to any negotiations without preconditions.