Hours before his swearing-in, Israel’s incoming deputy defense minister on Monday vowed to expand building at West Bank settlements. He also said Jerusalem has no Palestinian partner with whom to talk peace.
“We are prepared to talk and hold negotiations [with the Palestinians] without any preconditions,” MK Danny Danon (Likud) said Monday morning. “But in the government there are many who believe that there is no one on the other side who is interested in advancing the peace process.”
Danon, an outspoken critic of US President Barack Obama, predicted that when Obama arrives in Israel later this week for an official visit, the Israeli government will persuade him that it is not the Jewish state that is preventing peace in the Middle East, but rather Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.
“When Obama comes he will receive a warm welcome; he will hear our position and understand that there is a government here that wants peace,” he said. “Then, when he looks left and right, he will see that there really is no one to talk to… We are prepared to talk. Netanyahu has invited Mahmoud Abbas many times for negotiations. I’m not optimistic about this issue.”
Danon emphasized his intention to strengthen the Israeli grip on the West Bank, particularly by expanding the settlements. In the past, the Palestinians have demanded a full settlement freeze as a precondition to returning to the negotiation table.
Likewise, Danon said he would push to increase the Jewish presence in areas in the north and south of the country that have high proportions of Arab populations. “We will act within the law to strengthen the settlements in Judea and Samaria, in the Negev and in the Galilee,” he said.
Aware that the settlements are a sore point for Israel’s foreign policy, Danon insisted that the United States and the rest of the world must accept the people’s choice for their government.
“In the US they understand the democratic process very well,” Danon said. “There were elections and a nationalistic government was chosen under Benjamin Netanyahu.”
Danon will serve as deputy to defense minister Moshe Ya’alon, a former IDF chief of staff. Danon, who served in the IDF as a leader of a brief army program for youths, asserted that despite the gulf between the two men’s experience in military and security matters, he will still have much to contribute.