Interior Minister Silvan Shalom (Likud), who was appointed to lead Israel’s negotiating team in any future peace talks with the Palestinians, on Monday called for a regional conference to discuss peace and economics. His Likud colleague Tzipi Hotovely, the deputy foreign minister, however, said a two-state solution was nowhere in sight, and blamed the Palestinians.
Speaking at the 15th annual Herzliya Conference, Shalom said that if the Palestinians return to the negotiating table they will find that Israel is a “real partner.”
“I call on all moderate states to come to a conference, that will focus on peace and economics,” Shalom said.
“If the Palestinians will be serious and be prepared to sit down to real negotiations, I pledge to them that they will find in Israel a real partner,” he declared. “I call on the Palestinians to renew negotiations without preconditions and the sooner the better.”
But, the minister cautioned, “we can’t reach an agreement without compromise.”
“No one can impose a solution. No one can enforce us to take a solution that we can’t live with.”
Shalom said Israel was willing to help the Gaza Strip recover from the conflict last summer that caused widespread damage to infrastructure in the coastal enclave. He noted that some 800 trucks carrying goods cross from Israel into Gaza every day, this even as Egypt intermittently closes off its border crossing with Gaza.
“We want to participate in the rehabilitation of Gaza, but we can’t tolerate the fact that even as we are doing everything in order to help them — they are shooting rockets at Israel.”
On Saturday night, Palestinians in Gaza fired a rocket at southern Israel setting off air raid sirens in many communities. It was the second such incident that week. In both cases, the rockets landed in open areas without causing injury or damage.
“There are only a few from them [rockets], but that is how it starts,” Shalom said. “We want to stop it as it starts. It doesn’t matter if those who are shooting [them] are rogue factions, the responsibility is in the hands of Hamas, and Hamas is responsible for every rocket that is fired at Israel.”
Israel responded to the rocket attacks with air strikes against what the IDF termed “terror infrastructure” in Gaza.
Shalom also lavished praise on US President Barack Obama despite an ongoing diplomatic rift between Washington and Jerusalem surrounding differences over nuclear negotiations with Iran and on the Palestinian conflict, and the apparently tense personal relations between the American leader and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
“Obama is doing everything he can to preserve Israel’s security,” Shalom asserted. “We would like it if Europe acted the same way. I have been asked many times by the Europeans why they aren’t playing a central role in the peace process. I told them that they need to take a more balanced approach and not accept all Palestinian demands.”
The minister also called for regional unity against the Iranians who, he said, are “trying to destabilize the region.”
Shalom’s vision of a revived peace process with the Palestinians was not shared by Deputy Foreign Minister Hotovely who said earlier Monday at the same Herzliya conference that a two-state solution was nowhere in sight and that the problem lies with the Palestinians for encouraging confrontation rather than coexistence.
“There is a vision that there should be a separation between the two peoples for [the sake of] coexistence,” Hotovely said. “Today, the option of a two-state solution is not in sight.”
The basic concept of the two-state solution calls for a newly formed Palestinian state alongside Israel with borders negotiated around the pre-1967 lines.
The more Israel offered the Palestinians in negotiations, the deputy minister said, the further they ran, until finally abandoning peace talks and instead seeking unilateral recognition of a Palestinian state at the UN.
“The problem with the peace process is not because of us, it is because of the Palestinians,” shes said, according to a report in the Hebrew-language website NRG. “The Palestinians want to denounce us more than they want a state.”
Hotovely, a member of Likud, said that Israel should demand from the international community that it bring about a deep change in the Palestinian mindset “from a society with a negative ethos that encourages suicide terrorists and incites hate and terror — to a society that is prepared to live in the neighborhood with Israel that it recognizes as a Jewish state.”
Last month, Netanyahu told EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini that he would like to end the conflict with the Palestinians once and for all.
Peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority collapsed after nine months in April 2014 amid mutual recriminations that each side refused to live up to its pre-talks commitments. Then-justice minister Tzipi Livni (Hatnua) led the Israeli delegation while Saeb Erekat fronted the Palestinian team.
Israel officially suspended peace talks after Abbas agreed to a unity pact with Hamas, whose charter calls for the destruction of Israel. Before that, Palestinians applied to join a series of international treaties in contravention of understandings with the US and Israel, an apparent reaction to Israel’s own refusal to go ahead with a scheduled release of Palestinian prisoners.