Top minister vows to ‘push back’ against Trump’s promised price for embassy move

Tzachi Hanegbi says Israel has ‘no need to worry’ after US president pledges Jerusalem will pay for his recognition of the capital

Raoul Wootliff is a former Times of Israel political correspondent and Daily Briefing podcast producer.

Likud MK Tzachi Hanegbi at a meeting of the Defense and Foreign Affairs Committee in the Knesset. November 19, 2015. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)
Likud MK Tzachi Hanegbi at a meeting of the Defense and Foreign Affairs Committee in the Knesset. November 19, 2015. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Regional Cooperation Minister Tzachi Hanegbi said Wednesday that Israel will “push back against dictates or pressure,” after US President Donald Trump said it will pay “a higher price” in peace talks with the Palestinians due to his recognition of Jerusalem as the Jewish state’s capital.

“There is no need to worry,” Hanegbi, a senior Likud minister and close ally of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, said in a Facebook post  “If the Palestinians return to the negotiating table… we will know how to stand up for our own interests and push back against and dictates or pressure.”

Trump told a campaign rally in Charleston, West Virginia, on Tuesday that the Palestinians “will get something very good” in any future negotiations in return for the US’s recognition of the Israeli capital.

“It was a good thing to have done,” Trump said, of his recognition of Jerusalem and the relocation of the US embassy to the capital, “because we took it off the table. Because every time there were peace talks, they never got past Jerusalem becoming the capital. So I said, let’s take it off the table. And you know what? In the negotiation, Israel will have to pay a higher price, because they won a very big thing.” The Palestinians “will get something very good, because it’s their turn next. Let’s see what happens.”

US President Donald Trump speaks during a rally August 21, 2018, at the Civic Center in Charleston West Virginia. (AP Photo/Tyler Evert)

Hanegbi, however, said, “The fundamental principles [over future negotiations] that have been presented by Prime Minister Netanyahu are accepted by the Trump administration.”

According to those principles, which Hanegbi claims have vast support among the Israeli public, “under any future deal, only Israel will have responsibility over all of the Judea and Samaria area [the West Bank], and Jerusalem will be our eternal capital.”

Agriculture Minister Uri Ariel of the Jewish Home party also rejected the US president’s suggestion that Israel would have to pay a price, but unlike Hanegbi, said the comments were reason for worry.

“Not that we are fearful, but there is definitely concern,” Ariel told Army Radio.

Nonetheless, Ariel continued, “The president said in his comments ‘if there is ever going to be peace.’ I suggest that we first wait for that ‘if ever,’ before making any concessions.”

In May, Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman acknowledged that Israel would likely pay “a price” for the embassy move, explaining, “There is no free lunch.” But, he added, “it is worth paying it. We should welcome, and be prepared, to pay a price.”

US National Security Adviser John Bolton speaks during a press conference in Jerusalem, on August 22, 2018. (AFP PHOTO / POOL / ABIR SULTAN)

Speaking to reporters near the end of a three-day trip to Israel, Trump’s National Security Adviser John Bolton said Wednesday the US president’s comments did not represent a change in the administration’s policy on peace negotiations or on Israel’s need to make concessions.

But Zionist Union MK Eitan Cabel, responding to Ariel, said in a statement that Trump’s intentions were clear.

“The right can try to deny it all they want but they know that Trump is going to demand concessions from Israel for his ‘deal of the century,’” Cabel said. “It is time for the right to give up its mistaken notion that if they just postpone and delay, the diplomatic issues will fix themselves.”

The Trump administration said last week that neither Israelis nor Palestinian would be “fully pleased” with its long-awaited Middle East peace plan, whose contents are one of the most guarded secrets in Washington.

Bolton declined to give a timeframe for when the plan may be unveiled, saying that while “work continues and there are a lot of consultations underway, there are no decisions on the details or when the plan will be announced.”

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