Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday appointed newly installed Interior Minister Silvan Shalom to lead negotiations with the Palestinians and to oversee strategic dialogue with the United States.
“The prime minister has charged Silvan Shalom with conducting in his name the negotiations with the Palestinians,” an Israeli official said on condition of anonymity.
Shalom, a former foreign minister, said the development was proof that Israel really does want to reach a peace agreement with the Palestinians, the Hebrew-language NRG website reported.
“The appointment indicates the desire of the prime minister and Israel to have negotiations with the Palestinians, in contrast to the accusations that Israel refuses peace, and in contrast to the Palestinian claims that they cannot avoid unilateral actions in order to advance the establishment of a Palestinian state,” he said.
Shalom was also quoted as saying that he is “ready to review every subject in every area, from the most weighty issues of the United Nations to smaller matters such as managing joint day to day life” — a possible allusion to discussing the status of East Jerusalem, which the Palestinians want as the capital of a future Palestinian state.
The appointment came after Shalom failed to win the post of foreign minister, a position he pushed for until the final hours before Netanyahu presented his cabinet to the Knesset last week. Shalom had previously served as foreign minister in 2003-2006 in the government of Ariel Sharon.
Ultimately Shalom settled for the Interior Ministry, while Netanyahu kept the Foreign Ministry for himself amid rumors he wanted to hold it for Zionist Union leader MK Isaac Herzog, should Herzog bring his party into the coalition. However, Herzog has repeatedly declared he will never join a government led by Netanyahu.
The nomination was denounced by the Palestinians, who said Shalom did not believe in the two-state solution.
“He does not believe in a Palestinian state. He’s against a two-state solution,” an official from the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) told AFP, asking not to be named. “It’s not an issue of names. It’s an issue of policy.”
MK Tzipi Livni (Zionist Union), who in the previous government was charged with leading peace negotiations alongside her position as justice minister, told Israel Radio that there has been no handover between herself and Shalom concerning the talks. Livni said she was willing to help any minister who wants to reach an agreement, but speculated that Shalom’s appointment wouldn’t change the stance of the international community regarding Israel.
European Union foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini is scheduled to visit Israel and the Palestinian Authority later this week in a bid to push along stagnant peace efforts now that Jerusalem has sworn in a new government.
Moghineri is to meet with Netanyahu and with Herzog while in Israel on Wednesday, according to Israeli media reports.
She will also travel to the West Bank, where she will meet with PA President Mahmoud Abbas and the senior Palestinian leadership, according to the reports. Moghineri will look to jumpstart peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians, which have languished for over a year.
International pressure on Israel over the Palestinian issue is expected to ramp up in coming months, after a brief hiatus as capitals waited for the results of March general elections in Israel.
On Saturday US President Barack Obama noted in a conversation with the Al Arabiya news network that while the US government was committed to relaunching negotiations, the internal state of affairs within both Israel and the Palestinian Authority meant striking a deal would be “nearly impossible.”
Netanyahu raised the ire of the Obama administration two months ago during the election campaign when he indicated that a Palestinian state would not be created on his watch as prime minister.
Israel insists the only path to a solution is through direct, bilateral talks with the Palestinians, and has bristled at UN attempts to set a timeframe for a deal. The US has hitherto supported the Israeli position, but the Obama administration now says it is re-evaluating its approach.
US-brokered peace talks stalled last year after a nine-month effort when Abbas agreed to sign a unity pact with Gaza-based terrorist group Hamas, and amid a dispute over prisoner releases and settlements.
Times of Israel staff and AFP contributed to this report.