Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman on Thursday blamed the Palestinians for the deadlock in the peace talks that began last July, rejecting Ramallah’s preconditions for extending the American-moderated negotiations past April.
“The Palestinians are the ones torpedoing the talks by setting conditions,” he said in an interview with Israel Radio, adding that “Israel will not agree to any further conditions for the continuation of talks.”
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas said Monday that he would only continue peace negotiations past the April deadline if Israel agreed to freeze construction in West Bank settlements and free additional prisoners.
Liberman’s statement came amid increased American pressure to reach an interim agreement. US President Barack Obama this week addressed Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu sharply in an interview with Bloomberg, saying that the US would not be easily able to defend Israel from the fallout if peace talks failed.
Liberman was scheduled to travel to Rome later on Thursday to meet with US Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.
The meeting with Kerry comes in the aftermath of Netanyahu’s US visit and meeting with Obama and the Israeli seizure of an illicit Iranian arms shipment Wednesday.
The US has said that the seizure will not affect nuclear talks with Iran going forward, even though the US also had plans to intercept the shipment.
“We continue to have enormous issues with Iran, its sponsorship of terrorist organizations, its bad behavior in the region that manifests itself in many ways. And we continue to take all the necessary steps to address those challenges. But it’s entirely appropriate to continue to pursue the possibility of reaching a resolution on the nuclear program,” White House Spokesman Jay Carney said.
Carney confirmed earlier reports that there had been very close coordination between the US and Israel regarding the vessel, through both military and intelligence channels as well as coordination between respective national security advisers.
Also on Wednesday, the Israeli Foreign Ministry released its first statement on the ongoing crisis in Ukraine, where pro-Russian forces have taken control of the Crimean Peninsula.
“Israel is following with great concern the events in Ukraine, is anxious for peace for all its citizens, and hopes that the situation will not escalate to a loss of human life. Israel hopes the crisis in Ukraine will be handled through diplomatic means and will be resolved peacefully,” the ministry said in a statement.
It did not elaborate on whether it was referring to the takeover of the Crimea peninsula by Russian-backed troops.
Liberman, who immigrated to Israel from Moldova, a former Soviet Union territory, has made efforts in the past to bring Jerusalem closer to Moscow. In 2011, Liberman appeared with Russian President Vladimir Putin days after a contested election, drawing criticism.