Wed, Oct 13, 2010 - Page 6 News List

Israeli PM’s freeze offer seen as derailment ploy

AP and AFP, JERUSALEM

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s offer of a freeze on settlement building in exchange for Palestinian recognition of Israel’s Jewish identity was widely seen yesterday as a ploy to complicate US-backed peace efforts.

Netanyahu on Monday spelled out recognition of Israel as a Jewish state as his price for a renewal of a ban on construction in the occupied West Bank, seen as key to rescuing direct talks relaunched last month.

The offer was rejected out of hand by the Palestinians, who said it had “nothing to do with the peace process,” and was also widely slammed by Israeli politicians and commentators as a political ploy to sabotage the talks.

Netanyahu’s proposal was little more than a “major diversionary ploy” cooked up in order to ease the crisis over the expiry of the freeze, the left-leaning Haaretz newspaper said in a scathing editorial.

Top-selling daily Yediot Aharonot said it was “implicit” from Netanyahu’s speech that he was “going to do everything to torpedo the negotiations with the Palestinians at their current stage.”

“Netanyahu is searching for any possible trick to push the Palestinians into the position of being rejectionists,” Shimon Shiffer wrote in an analysis headlined: “The Derailer.”

A renewal of the ban on Jewish settlement building on occupied Palestinian land, which expired on Sept. 26, is largely seen as the key to reviving the moribund peace talks, which began three weeks earlier.

Despite huge diplomatic pressure to reimpose the freeze, especially from Washington, Netanyahu has refused to do so, while Palestinian President Mahmud Abbas has said he will hold no further talks until the building stops.

“If the Palestinian leadership will unequivocally say to its people that it recognizes Israel as the national state of the Jewish people, I will be ready to convene my Cabinet and ask for another moratorium on building,” Netanyahu said on Monday.

The Palestinians formally recognized Israel on the eve of the 1993 Oslo Accords, but they have rejected demands to recognize its Jewish character because it would effectively renounce the right of return for refugees from the 1948 Arab-Israeli war.

“When he demands that Abbas recognize Israel as a state of the Jewish people, he is offering assisted political suicide to the Palestinian leader,” Haaretz commentator Akiva Eldar wrote.

For one senior member of Netanyahu’s right-wing Likud party, Netanyahu’s maneuver had practically ruled out any renewal of a building freeze in the West Bank.

“His proposal pushes off a building freeze and talks with the Palestinians,” the official told the Yediot.

“Negotiations with the Americans are at an impasse, so Netanyahu came up with a proposal to show that he is willing to continue the talks, but it is clear that the Palestinians will not agree. Therefore, there is virtually no chance that the construction freeze will be reinstated,” the Likud official said.

Meanwhile, Israeli Deputy Prime Minister Moshe Yaalon said members of the Cabinet’s decisionmaking circle doubt a peace deal with the Palestinians can be reached in the near future.

Yaalon’s remarks appear contrary to Netanyahu’s stated commitment on trying to reach an agreement within a year. Yaalon spoke to Army Radio yesterday.

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