West Bank – Israel will make “dramatic decisions” to reach a final peace agreement that will end the conflict with the Palestinians, Israel’s chief negotiator said Tuesday while warning that hawks inside Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s coalition are making her job more difficult.
Tzipi Livni’s remarks came as a senior Palestinian official said that Israeli and Palestinian negotiators were to meet for their second round of peace talks Tuesday. The first round was held last week in Jerusalem under a cloak of secrecy.
The Palestinian official, who is close to the negotiations, refused to say where or when the talks were being held. He spoke on condition of anonymity because both sides promised U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry not to discuss details with the media.
Kerry spent months engaging in shuttle diplomacy between the two sides before they agreed to return to the table after a five-year freeze in negotiations.
Livni, speaking on Israel Radio, also refused to comment on talks, saying that holding negotiations far from the media is meant to build trust between the two sides.
But she predicted there would be “dramatic decisions in the end,” and lamented the lack of support from hardline elements in the coalition.
Talks collapsed in 2008 and remained stalled until now mainly over the issue of Israeli settlement construction in territory the Palestinians demand for their future state.
The Palestinians had demanded a settlement freeze in exchange for resuming talks — a demand that Israel refused.
Kerry managed to get the Palestinians to drop their demand in exchange for Israel’s release of veteran Palestinian prisoners involved in killing Israeli civilians and soldiers. Talks on a final peace deal are to last six to nine months.
Livni said that hawkish parties in the coalition are making the talks more difficult because of their opposition to establishment of a Palestinian state, the centerpiece of any peace deal.
“It is no secret that in this coalition there is at least one party … who objects to the idea of two states for two peoples, which is something I support with all my heart,” Livni said. “It is definitely very problematic in regard to the negotiations,” she said.
Economics Minister Naftali Bennett, leader of the Jewish Home Party, the coalition’s third largest, objects to conceding territory to the Palestinians. The party is allied with the Jewish settler movement.
Bennett is not alone. Many Israelis balk at the idea of withdrawing from the West Bank and east Jerusalem, territory that along with the Gaza Strip, Israel captured in the 1967 Mideast war.
Israel withdrew from Gaza in 2005, and the Islamic militant group Hamas later took over the territory and used it to fire thousands of mortars and rockets into the Jewish state.
Other territory the Palestinians want, the West Bank and east Jerusalem, has deep religious significance for many Jews, who see it as their biblical heartland and heritage.
Livni berated the dovish Labor party for declining the prime minister’s offer to join the coalition after elections early this year. She said their refusal paved the way for the current hawkish coalition. She said it would be easier if there was “a more solid majority in the government to the (peace) process and decisions.”
Tuesday’s talks were clouded by the death of a Palestinian man in a clash with Israeli forces. The Israeli military said he was killed after Israeli soldiers came under fire during an arrest raid in the West Bank town of Jenin.
Military spokesman Lt. Col. Peter Lerner says the military was investigating.
Lerner said any military operation to apprehend suspects “in urban areas is an extremely complicated task” because they often “take refuge within the civilian population.”