Livni slams housing minister for ‘torpedoing’ peace efforts

Israel’s chief negotiator also hints US is over-involved, doesn’t endorse Abbas as partner, can’t promise current crisis will be overcome

Justice Minister Tzipi Livni (photo credit: Miriam Alster/Flash90/File)
Justice Minister Tzipi Livni (photo credit: Miriam Alster/Flash90/File)

Israel’s chief peace negotiator on Saturday accused one of her ministerial colleagues of deliberately working to “torpedo” her peace efforts with the Palestinians, and intimated that the United States was over-involved in the process, when more time needed to be spent in direct Israeli-Palestinian contacts.

She also slammed Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas for breaching their agreed negotiating framework, and sounded far from confident that the ruptured talks could be rescued.

Looking weary and at times angry in a Channel 2 interview, Livni said Housing and Construction Minister Uri Ariel had “deliberately” reissued housing tenders for 708 new homes in east Jerusalem’s Gilo neighborhood, at a highly sensitive moment in the peace efforts last Tuesday, “in order to torpedo what I am doing along with the prime minister” to try to advance peacemaking.

Ariel, from the Orthodox-nationalist Jewish Home party, “must be reined in,” she said.

While she indicated that she placed overwhelming blame on the PA for the current crisis in the talks, Livni said that “announcements of settlement building will always mean blame is placed on us” for the failure to achieve peace. “The whole world will blame us.”

Housing Minister Uri Ariel (second from right) and Deputy Transportation Minister Tzipi Hotovely (right) during visit to the settlement of Kochav Yaakov in August 2013 (photo credit: Sasson Tiram/ Ministry of Housing and Construction)
Housing Minister Uri Ariel (second from right) and Deputy Transportation Minister Tzipi Hotovely (right) during visit to the settlement of Kochav Yaakov in August 2013 (photo credit: Sasson Tiram/ Ministry of Housing and Construction)

Livni, the justice minister from the center-left Hatnua Party, confirmed that she would be meeting her Palestinian counterpart Saeb Erekat on Sunday to try to revive the talks, and said she’d had “a very difficult” meeting with him, long into Thursday night, mediated by US special envoy Martin Indyk. The trio also met for hours, unproductively, on Wednesday night.

She said she was “angry” that Abbas had “lost patience” after Israel delayed releasing a fourth and final group of longterm Palestinian terror convicts last weekend, and said he had “breached” their understandings by applying to join 15 UN and other international treaties. “We can’t just smile and move on,” she said.

Asked repeatedly whether she had a formula for reviving the talks, Livni offered no specifics, but said she was “in the midst of the struggle… It’s complex… We have to try to find a way forward, while protecting Israel’s interests.”

Long one of the most optimistic Israeli leaders as regards the prospects for progress with the Palestinians, Livni on Saturday sounded deeply downbeat. In answer to a repeated question, she did not endorse Abbas as a viable partner for a two-state solution, saying, “He’ll have to prove it… The test is still ahead of us.”

And she did not offer a single example of progress made over the past eight months of negotiating, regretting that too much of the time had been spent in Israeli-American and Palestinian-American talks, rather than in direct Israeli-Palestinian negotiations. More bilateral Israeli-Palestinian contacts were needed, she said, including direct talks between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Abbas.

“We worked hard with the United States” on the “framework” accord that Secretary of State John Kerry had tried, and thus far failed, to attain to govern ongoing negotiations. Kerry was “unbelievable,” she said. “There is no limit to the effort he makes.”

Livni made clear that she would not be bolting the coalition over the collapse of peace talks. Indeed, she praised Netanyahu for having taken “very complicated decisions,” including over releasing terrorist convicts and constraining settlement expansion.

Livni said it had been clear from the start that Israel would not free Israeli-Arabs, as demanded by the PA, in the canceled fourth group of prisoner releases, except in the context of a wider “package” — a reference to the deal that had been taking shape for the US to free American-Israeli spy Jonathan Pollard, Israel to release more prisoners and restrict settlement building, and the Palestinians to commit to extended negotiations and no unilateral moves toward statehood. That package deal, which had been taking shape Tuesday, fell apart after Abbas signed the treaty applications. “The Palestinians decided not to wait any longer,” Livni said bitterly.

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