The US is opposed to unilateral steps of any kind and is interested in seeing peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians resume, a State Department official said Friday, in response to comments made earlier in the day by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in which he intimated that Israel may have to take unilateral steps as an alternative to negotiations.
“We don’t think either side should do anything to complicate efforts right now to build the trust necessary to resume negotiations,” said the State Department’s deputy spokeswoman Marie Harf.
“No one should take any steps that undermine trust, including unilateral,” she said, stressing that the US “would like to resume peace negotiations.”
Addressing talk of the imminent departure of Martin Indyk, the US’s special envoy to the peace talks, Harf said: “He’s here. He’s working. I don’t have any predictions to make… about staffing going forward.
“You guys are kicking him out the door before he’s gone,” she said during a press gathering.
US-brokered peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians broke down late last month after a nine-month effort.
Harf’s comments came hours after Netanyahu, in an interview with Bloomberg, hinted that Israel may have to consider taking unilateral steps in the West Bank after laying blame for the collapse of peace talks on Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.
In Netanyahu’s first comments to the press since the talks collapsed, the prime minister struck a pessimistic tone regarding the possibility of restarting negotiations.
Later Friday, Economics and Trade Minister Naftali Bennett (Jewish Home) said that he supports Netanyahu’s talk of Israeli unilateral action.
While it was not clear whether the prime minister meant annexing mainly Jewish-settled territory or withdrawing from mainly Palestinian areas, the Jewish Home chief made plain he was backing annexation: “I hear talk of ‘Israel’s unilateral actions’– I support that,” he wrote.
“We are pushing for applying Israeli law unilaterally over Gush Etzion, Ariel, the Jordan Valley, Ma’aleh Adumim, Ofra, Alfe Menashe, the Ben Gurion Airport envelope, Samaria, Judea, and the rest of the Jewish settlement enterprise,” Bennett added. “It is time to do what is best for Israel.”
“The era of negotiations has come to an end,” Bennett wrote on his Facebook page.
Chief negotiator Tzipi Livni, however, said in a TV interview that Bennett’s call for annexation would not come to fruition, and vowed to maintain contact with Abbas to try to break the negotiating deadlock.
The Palestinian leadership is unwilling to make compromises for peace, calling into question the efficacy of diplomatic negotiations, Netanyahu said during the interview.
“Negotiations are always preferable. But six prime ministers since Oslo have failed in their pursuit of a negotiated settlement,” he said. “They’ve always thought we were on the verge of success, and then [Yasser] Arafat backed off, Mahmoud Abbas backed off, because they can’t conclude these negotiations. We don’t have a Palestinian leadership that is willing to do that. The minimal set of conditions that any Israeli government would need cannot be met by the Palestinians.”
Asked about the possibility of a unilateral withdrawal from the West Bank, Netanyahu acknowledged that the idea was gaining traction across the political spectrum, but warned that Israel could not risk another Gaza, which was taken over by Hamas after Israeli unilaterally disengaged.
“Many Israelis are asking themselves if there are certain unilateral steps that could theoretically make sense. But people also recognize that the unilateral withdrawal from Gaza didn’t improve the situation or advance peace,” he said. Negotiations collapsed after nine months in April amid mutual recriminations that each side refused to live up to its pre-talks commitments.
While Netanyahu backed efforts by Secretary of State John Kerry to bring the sides to the table, he blamed Abbas for not taking the Americans seriously.
“What has Abbas done? Nothing. He’s refused to entertain Kerry’s efforts to try and lock horns on the core issues. He internationalized the conflict,” he said, referring to the Palestinian leader’s decision to apply to 15 international treaties, which, according to Jerusalem, broke a Palestinian commitment not to apply for statehood to the UN.
Unnamed sources in the Prime Minister’s Office told Haaretz on Friday that Netanyahu, in speaking of unilateral action, did not mean evacuating settlements. They said the prime minister was currently exploring Israel’s options and consulting with coalition members.