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Monday, March 29, 2010

Ministers Reaffirm Stance on Jerusalem

By ETHAN BRONNER

JERUSALEM — Senior Israeli ministers have publicly rejected American demands for curbs on Jewish building in East Jerusalem and other concessions to the Palestinians, indicating no imminent end to the rift between Jerusalem and Washington.

Benny Begin, a member of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s inner cabinet — which has met twice since Mr. Netanyahu returned from Washington last week — said Monday on Israel Radio that the status of East Jerusalem should be resolved in direct negotiations with the Palestinians, not in advance.

“It’s irritating and certainly a cause of concern,” Mr. Begin said of the American request. “This change will definitely bring about the opposite of the declared goal. It will bring about a hardening in the policy of the Arabs and of the Palestinian Authority.”

Mr. Netanyahu, who met with President Obama in the White House last week, has promised answers to his requests regarding Jerusalem and other confidence building measures aimed at starting indirect talks with the Palestinian Authority. But with Passover starting Monday night, the prime minister was not expected to convene his inner cabinet again till midweek to fashion a reply.

Avigdor Lieberman, the foreign minister and another member of the inner group of seven ministers, said in a newspaper interview that the Obama demands included a building freeze in most of the Jewish neighborhoods of Jerusalem. He added: “I have not seen anyone among the seven who has consented to this. The past few days have taught me that there is no point to further concessions.”

Mr. Netanyahu himself has said that he could not see acceding to any request that slowed down or interfered with construction of Jewish homes in East Jerusalem which Israel annexed in 1967, a move unrecognized by the rest of the world.

Ehud Barak, the defense minister and Labor party leader, also in the group of seven, the only member from a left-of-center party, told military reporters on Sunday that Israel alone was responsible for its safety but said keeping strong relations with the United States was vital.

He also said that the specifics of the American requests were less important than the message from Israel that it was “with them and serious about the peace process.”

Mr. Lieberman’s comments in Maariv newspaper took nearly the opposite approach, saying he had opposed from the start the mission ofGeorge J. Mitchell, the American envoy to the region, and his position had now been validated.

“I warned the government that in the end, we would be maneuvered into the corner, and would stand in it alone against the whole world,” he said of the Mitchell approach. “Now a year later, we have reached exactly the situation that I feared.”

Mr. Lieberman heads the ultranationalist Yisrael Beiteinu party and although he holds the foreign affairs portfolio, he has been essentially kept out of direct dealings with Washington or relations with Arab countries because of his positions. Still, as a member of the inner seven minister group and leader of the country’s third largest party, he has influence.

He does not give many newspaper interviews, preferring public comments and speeches. In Maariv, his radical views were on display. He said, for example, that the only hope for the Israeli-Palestinian dispute was not a negotiated two-state solution but a land swap and population exchange in which Palestinian citizens of Israel would end up in a Palestinian state.

Asked how he expected the international community to accept that, he said, “The world will accept anything that we rally around.” He added: “The world is fed up with us. They want a solution by all possible means. We have become a global headache.”

Mr. Lieberman, who lives in a West Bank settlement, said he had no intention of taking his party out of the coalition even if his approach was rejected by the government. He predicted that in the next election, his party would become dominant by doubling its number of seats in parliament.

On the question of Washington’s demands regarding East Jerusalem, he said he was certain Israel could convince the administration that curbing Jewish building was unreasonable. Asked what he would do if he was unsuccessful, he replied, “There will be no choice but to insist, to pay the price even if it is high.”


Source: NYT

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