Sunday, June 21, 2009

Ben-Eliezer: Let Mubarak lead peace process

Prime Minister Netanyahu faces contrasting pressures ahead of Europe visit: While Labor ministers urge immediate progress in peace process, Likud's Yaalon stresses 'there is no partner' on Palestinian side
Roni Sofer

Likud and Labor ministers exerted contrasting pressures on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday morning ahead of his upcoming trip to Europe. Following reports on the Egyptian president's plan for a "major truce" and progress in the talks for a prisoner exchange deal, Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer (Labor) said during the weekly cabinet meeting that Hosni Mubarak should be the one to lead and broker the peace process between Israel and the Palestinians.

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Ben-Eliezer praised Netanyahu's policy speech last week, but said that its test was in its execution, "because every day passing by is not on our side."

He added that the prime minister must meet with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

Defense Minister Ehud Barak was absent from the cabinet meeting due to a meeting with Mubarak and other Egyptian officials in Cairo.

Mubarak and Barak in Cairo, Sunday morning (Photo: AFP)

The prime minister briefed the ministers on his upcoming trip and meetings with Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi and French President Nicolas Sarkozy. "We demand a demilitarized (Palestinian) state with no missiles," Netanyahu stressed.

Likud ministers Benny Begin and Moshe Yaalon also voiced their views, which contradicted Ben-Eliezer's demand. "We have no partner on the other side," said Yaalon, and Begin demanded that "we insist on our right for a Jewish state".

Science and Technology Minister Daniel Hershkowitz (Habayit Hayehudi) said during the meeting that "the demand to recognize the State of Israel as a Jewish state will prevent the Palestinians' 'salami method'."

According to Hershkowitz, "It’s a fact that the State of Israel is the Jewish people's state, but the Palestinians must accept it if they wish to end the conflict."

Interior Minister Eli Yishai (Shas) said that Israel "must find out where the Palestinian are headed – whether to reconciliation and peace or to continued incitement and terror. We must know whether they are seeking two states in order to establish one Palestinian state and one for Hamas, or whether they are willing to accept a Jewish state alongside their own."

On the other side of the table, Labor ministers – headed by Ben-Eliezer, Avishay Braverman and Isaac Herzog – praised the prime minister for accepting the two states for two people principle, but said that progress must be made so that the end result won't be "one state for two people".

The prime ministers PR foreign media advisor, Mark Regev, addressed the talks for a comprehensive agreement on the Gaza border and slammed Hamas, saying that the Palestinian organization was "part of the problem and not part of the solution".

"They are insisting on a radical agenda, and are responsible for a tragedy – both that of the south's residents and of Gaza's residents – and we must not talk to them," Regev said.

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