Science and Technology Minister Yaakov Peri insisted on Sunday that Israel had a peace partner in the Palestinian Authority, challenging a series of statements over the weekend from cabinet ministers expressing pessimism over the talks.

“We have a partner, but not an easy one,” said Peri, a former head of the Shin Bet security service.

Citing the diplomatic “atmosphere, and American optimism, and the fact that the Americans have presented a plan for security arrangements — which Israel has yet to respond to positively, but is definitely in the right direction,” Peri said he was “hopeful” and “very optimistic” that a peace agreement will be achieved that fulfills Israel’s “vital, existential interest” of a two-state solution.

Peri’s comments, made to Army Radio ahead of the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem on Sunday, were a response to a series of statements from senior Israeli ministers that expressed skepticism and reservations over the US-brokered peace talks.

Economy and Trade Minister Naftali Bennett said on Sunday morning that he was “for an agreement, but a real one that doesn’t harm our interests.”

“Maybe I missed the news and Hamas in Gaza recognized Israel and stopped firing rockets,” he said sarcastically. Peace talks that did not include the leaders of Gaza were “a joke,” he insisted.
Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon also questioned the efficacy of talks.

“As someone who supported the Oslo Accords, I’m learning that we have no partner on the other side” for a two-state solution, said Ya’alon. “On the other side, there isn’t, and hasn’t been since the dawn of Zionism, a leadership that’s willing to recognize our right to exist as the nation state of the Jewish people, and to see in an agreement an end to the conflict and an end to all demands. We won’t talk about an inch, a millimeter of land so long as we don’t see that we have a partner that’s talking about recognition, about the end of the conflict and the end of the right of return.”

Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman, speaking at the Brookings Institution’s Saban Forum in Washington on Friday, said a peace deal was unlikely to be reached in the coming year.

“To speak frankly,” he said, “I don’t believe it is possible in the next year to achieve [a] comprehensive solution, to achieve some breakthrough, but I think it’s crucial to keep our dialogue, because we live in the same region, we’re neighbors. It’s important at least to think about coexistence.”