Dismantle ‘isolated settlements’ now, minister says

Meir Cohen of Yesh Atid also calls for a harsher response to ‘price tag’ attacks, while tourism minister Landau warns of ‘Auschwitz borders’

Yesh Atid MK Meir Cohen (Miriam Alster/Flash90)
Yesh Atid MK Meir Cohen (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Amid a US-led bid to resume long-dormant peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians, Israeli ministers over the weekend appeared to disagree over the desired outcome of negotiations, with one minister calling for the evacuation of some settlements while another referred to the 1967 lines as “Auschwitz borders.”

In a departure from policies espoused just last week by his party leader, Finance Minister Yair Lapid, Welfare Minister Meir Cohen of Yesh Atid said Saturday that Israel should immediately “dismantle the isolated settlements” and “do the maximum to not be portrayed as a state that’s willing to do anything to avoid negotiations… these settlements cost us a lot of money.”

“We have lost control over the settlers in some cases,” Cohen was quoted in the Maariv daily as saying at a cultural event in Holon. “We need to deal with the hilltop youth in order to bring them back to normative behavior,” he added, condemning the recent spate of “price tag” attacks carried out by extremist Jews against Palestinians and Israeli Arabs.

“Hilltop youth” is the name given to members of the extremist wing of the settler movement who erect makeshift outposts across the wilderness of the West Bank in an attempt to establish an Israeli presence.

“There will be a Palestinian state, no matter what,” said Cohen. “It’s only a matter of time. What I object to is announcing what we are willing to give up before the negotiations even begin.”

Whatever came of peace talks, Cohen added, “Jerusalem must forever remain unified.”

He also said that Israel should cede the Golan Heights to Syria in a future peace deal, if President Bashar Assad is replaced by “somebody we can rely on.”

Taking a more hardline stance was Tourism Minister Uzi Landau (Likud-Beytenu) who on Sunday evoked one of the more controversial statements of Israel’s late, legendary elder statesman Abba Eban, who, Landau noted, “once said that the 1967 borders were ‘Auschwitz borders.’

“What country wants to reach the limits where it can’t defend itself?” Landau said before the weekly cabinet meeting. “We shouldn’t forget what we got when we withdrew from Gaza. We got Hamas and terrorism from the start. We have to be realistic.”

Meanwhile, Environmental Protection Minister Amir Peretz (Hatnua) expressed his support for territorial concessions.

“It’s certain that the political agreement will be based on the 1967 lines, with land swaps,” he said.

“I definitely think it’s the moment of truth, and the presence of [John] Kerry is extremely important,” he added, referring to the US secretary of state’s renewed engagement with the Israel-Arab peace process since taking office in February and his presence at the World Economic Forum meeting in Jordan this week.

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