The recent escalation in violence between Israel and Gaza will likely not derail or even hamper Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, current and former Israeli officials said Thursday.
“I don’t see a direct influence. There are other obstacles and challenges for the talks, but I think it only [shows] the demands on Israel in a different perspective,” Deputy Defense Minister Danny Danon told The Times of Israel.
While he personally opposes the release of Palestinian terrorists in the framework of the negotiations, Danon said he does not expect the recent events to impact the government’s decision on whether to go ahead with the fourth and final round of these releases, planned for March 29. Other ministers, though, do oppose the scheduled release.
The Islamic Jihad terror group fired more than 60 rockets from Gaza at Israeli towns beginning Wednesday afternoon, leading the IDF to retaliate against terror-related targets in the coastal strip. On Thursday afternoon, Islamic Jihad announced that a truce had gone into effect and Israeli officials said quiet would be met with quiet.
Danon said Wednesday’s heavy rocket fire should serve to illustrate Israel’s predicament to “our allies and friends, who are trying to push forward the negotiations,” and strengthen Israel’s position in the talks.
“They need to understand that there are other forces in the region,” he said, and thus even if Israel were able to reach an agreement with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, “we cannot ignore the current reality in Gaza… When we speak about security aspects and scenarios of instability in the region, and at the same time you have dozens of rockets trying to [harm] civilian population, it makes clear to our friends in Washington that we have a good reason to be worried about what would happen in the future in Judea and Samaria,” Danon added, using the Biblical name for the West Bank.
A government official confirmed that Jerusalem currently has no plans to halt or reschedule the peace talks, acknowledging that Abbas and the PA cannot be blamed for the rocket fire. “We always knew that Abbas has next to no influence on what happens in Gaza,” the official said, speaking on a condition of anonymity.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s former national security adviser, Yaakov Amidror, also said the recent escalation will probably not disrupt the process.
The onus is on Abbas to make the decisions that will allow the negotiations to advance, he said, adding that “Israel has absolutely no reason to halt the negotiations.”
Amidror, a retired general who dealt mostly with military intelligence, said that the only connection between the situation in the South and the peace talks is that the massive rocket fire from Gaza proved how crucial ironclad security arrangements are in any peace agreement. Israel must be able to prevent weapons from being smuggled into the West Bank, “because the alternative is Gaza,” he said.
Economy Minister Naftali Bennett, on the other hand, appeared to use the rocket fire from Gaza to agitate against the continuation of the peace talks. “Sderot and Ashkelon residents are still in their shelters. Yet there are those who think running away from Samaria so that the residents of Kfar Saba are in shelters too is the solution,” he posted on Facebook.
The international community urged Israelis and Palestinians not to allow the recent events to derail the talks.
“The calculations of those responsible for these acts of terrorism, who hope that these attacks will torpedo the difficult and still fragile peace process, must be proved wrong,” German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said. “The negotiations on peace in the Middle East are in a difficult phase. All sides need to make even greater efforts.”
Middle East Quartet representative Tony Blair, speaking to British journalists after a meeting with British Prime Minister David Cameron in Jerusalem, called for a “completely new strategy towards Gaza,” but indicated that the talks need to continue. “I don’t think even with those rocket attacks that should get in way of pursuing a political process and a political negotiation that allows, under the leadership of the United States, the two sides to come together and to try and describe an outline of what a two state solution looks like of how a Palestinian state is going to be and to operate and to function,” he said.
Netanyahu has so far remained silent about the future of the peace talks, indicating, however, that they will proceed as planned. On Thursday, during a visit in a Jerusalem industrial zone together with Cameron, he denounced Abbas for failing to condemn the rocket attacks fired at Israel. “I say we want to move to a genuine peace. To move to a genuine peace, we have to be very clear on our condemnation of terror and our support for the right to defend ourselves against terror. That is a crucial component of peace,” Netanyahu said.
A few hours later, Abbas did condemn the attacks coming out of Gaza. ”We condemn all military escalation, including rockets,” he said at a press conference in Bethlehem alongside Cameron.