Rather than make bold decisions conducive to peace, the government continues to “give the US the finger” with regard to talks with the Palestinians, Meretz MK Zahava Gal-on charged on Tuesday, reacting to statements by Secretary of State John Kerry that ascribed much of the blame for the present impasse to Israel.
Kerry’s statements “are further proof that the extreme rightist… coalition has no interests in reaching an agreement, but rather is dragging out the negotiations and endangering Israel’s existential interests,” she said.
“Instead of making courageous decisions, this bad government continued to give the US the finger,” she added. The image is favored by Gal-on, who in June 2013 claimed that pushing forward with the construction of 69 Jewish homes in an East Jerusalem neighborhood was also tantamount to making an obscene gesture at Washington.
She also accused Economy Minister Naftali Bennett, chairman of the right-wing Jewish Home party, of “funneling hundreds of millions of shekels to the settlers under the table,” and called Finance Minister Yair Lapid and Justice Minister Tzipi Livni — Israel’s chief negotiator — “the government’s fig leaf, [allowing it] to ignore its voters and the promises it made to them not so long ago.”
Housing Minister Uri Ariel also addressed the secretary’s remarks, but he held other ministers in the cabinet directly accountable for the Kerry’s apparent accusations, a possible allusion to Livni, with whom he recently exchanged recriminations over the ill-fated talks.
“When ministers take the trouble to repeat a thousand times that we are to blame, eventually there are those across the sea who listen, take the statements, and repeat them,” he said.
Ariel claimed that while all ministers agreed that the fault for the collapse of the talks really lay with the Palestinians, internal disputes have nonetheless risen with regard to the peace process, a trend he called “inappropriate and damaging.”
During a Senate hearing earlier Tuesday, Kerry called out Israel and the Palestinians for their “unhelpful moves,” specifically highlighting Israel’s shirking a commitment to release Palestinian prisoners and approving construction tenders in an East Jerusalem neighborhood.
“The prisoners were not released by Israel on the day they were supposed to be released and then another day passed and another day, and then 700 units were approved in Jerusalem and then poof — that was sort of the moment,” he said.
The secretary of state was referring to the planned fourth release of Palestinian security prisoners, which was originally slated for March 29. Israel did not proceed with the release on time, with Jerusalem saying that it was delayed because the Palestinian Authority had demanded that Israeli Arabs be among those freed and was unwilling to commit to extend peace talks beyond their April 29 deadline.
On April 1, the Israel Lands Authority reissued a call for tenders for 708 homes in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Gilo, which is located beyond the 1967 lines and was annexed by Israel.
Bennett, the economy minister, insisted Tuesday in a reaction to Kerry’s remarks that “Israel will never apologize for building in Jerusalem.”
“For many years people have tried to prevent us from living in the eternal capital of the Jewish people. This won’t happen. Building in Jerusalem is not a ‘puff’ [sic], building in Jerusalem is Zionism,” he said in a statement posted to Facebook.
Raphael Ahren contributed to this report.