After she lambasted the Palestinian leadership on Saturday for its “unacceptable” positions, Justice Minister Tzipi Livni on Monday appeared to rail against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and other Israeli officials, suggesting that they weren’t negotiating with the Palestinians in good faith.
“There are those in this country who are disappointed that there is no partner [for peace] on the Palestinian side,” Livni, who heads the Israeli negotiating team, with the Palestinian Authority, said at a conference at the Institute for National Security Studies in Tel Aviv. “The point is not to expose the other side’s face, but to reach an agreement with them.”
Hatnua party leader Livni, a dovish member of Netanyahu’s largely right-wing cabinet, was implying that, rather than pursue a peace agreement in earnest, some Israeli officials have been baiting the Palestinians so as to elicit responses that could be construed as rejectionist.
On Sunday, a well-placed official in the Prime Minister’s Office told The Times of Israel that Netanyahu does not intend to uproot Jewish settlements anywhere in the West Bank, and would not force any settlers to leave, even under a permanent peace deal with the Palestinians. Rather, the prime minister will insist that settlers be given the free choice of remaining in place and living under Palestinian rule, or relocating to areas under Israeli sovereign rule, the official said.
The official’s comments drew sharp condemnations from Palestinian Authority officials, including chief negotiator Saeb Erekat.
“Anyone who says he wants to keep settlers in the Palestinian state is actually saying that he doesn’t want a Palestinian state,” Erekat said. “No settler will be allowed to stay in the Palestinian state, not even a single one, because settlements are illegal and the presence of the settlers on the occupied lands is illegal.”
In response, the PMO issued a harshly worded statement lamenting the Palestinians’ “extreme and reckless” rejection.
“Nothing shows the Palestinian Authority’s unwillingness to reach an accord with Israel more than their extreme and reckless reaction to an unofficial report,” Netanyahu’s office said late Sunday. “An accord will only be reached when the Palestinians recognize the Jewish state and when the essential interests to the security of Israeli citizens are guaranteed.”
During her speech on Monday, Livni also directly addressed the Israeli right’s rejection of Palestinian aspirations to statehood.
“I’ve heard in recent days various sources in Israel who said that Jews didn’t dream for 2,000 years in order to give away part of their land,” she said, referring to Jewish Home leader and Economics Minister Naftali Bennett’s criticism of the Netanyahu settlers-in-Palestine idea. “They also didn’t dream of an isolated state that rules over others. There’s a price for arriving at an agreement, but the price of not arriving at an agreement is much higher.”
Peace negotiations are “something we need to do because I believe it’s the new vision of Zionism,” Livni said.
Israelis and Palestinians are currently engaged in peace talks which began in July and are set to continue until April.
In years of negotiations, it has generally been assumed that any Jewish settlers not inside Israeli territory under a future peace deal would have to leave or be forcibly removed, though former prime minister Ehud Olmert raised the idea of some staying under Palestinian rule in 2006.
More than 500,000 Israelis live in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, territories that Israel captured in the 1967 war and which the Palestinians now hope will be part of their future state. East Jerusalem and the West Bank, known to religious Jews as Judea and Samaria, are parts of the biblical land of Israel. Hard-line Israelis object to ceding either area on both spiritual and security grounds.
Netanyahu already has said he wants to retain major settlement blocs, home to the vast majority of settlers, as part of any deal. The Palestinians have signaled they would give up their claims to the lands where the blocs are located under a land swap giving them equivalent territory from what is now inside Israel.
But experts believe roughly 100,000 settlers live outside of these blocs, and their fate under any final peace deal is unclear. Many of these settlers likely would evacuate their homes in return for fair compensation. Others, however, are deeply ideological and would resist any forcible eviction.
In Psagot, an isolated settlement that overlooks the Palestinian city of Ramallah, residents dismissed any talk of Israel withdrawing from the area — or placing them under Palestinian rule.
“Can you imagine an American living under the al-Qaeda regime,” asked David Zviel, a 34-year-old father of five. “That is not something that is realistic.”
He said he expected Israel to stay in the area for generations to come. “We’re going to be here and my great grandchildren will be here.”
“The Land of Israel is ours. God gave us the land,” added Sivan Yemini, a 28-year-old music teacher in Psagot.
“We are here to stay, on the land of our forefathers, in the places where Abraham walked, in the place where the kingdoms of Judea and Israel reigned, we have returned to the land of our forefathers,” Gershon Mesika, a resident of the settlement of Elon Moreh, wrote in a column in Monday’s edition of the Maariv daily newspaper.