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Deputy PM: Israeli officials doubt peace is reachable

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

JERUSALEM -- An Israeli Cabinet minister said Tuesday top officials doubt a peace deal with the Palestinians can be reached soon even though the prime minister has committed to try to reach an agreement within a year.

The Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, which resumed last month after a breakdown of nearly two years, have already run aground over Israel's refusal to renew a moratorium on West Bank settlement construction.

"I don't know a single minister in the septet who thinks it's possible to reach a deal in the foreseeable future," Deputy Prime Minister Moshe Yaalon said.

Yaalon was referring to the seven-member decision-making body in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's Cabinet.

Yaalon accused the Palestinians of being intransigent and of carrying out repeated violence and incitement since 1993, when the two sides signed their first, interim peace accord.

He claimed the Palestinians have refused to declare an end to their conflict with Israel, even under a peace deal, suggesting that further demands for territorial concessions could follow.

However, an official in the prime minister's office disputed Yaalon's take on the matter, noting that Netanyahu, who leads the septet, had reiterated his goal of reaching peace within one year during a parliamentary speech on Monday.

"He believes firmly that if both sides show creativity and flexibility and are ready to take tough decisions, then peace is possible. But it has to be a two-way street. It can't just be the Palestinians making demands and Israel making concessions," said the official. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to respond to another minister's public comments.

The Palestinians say Israel has not lived up to its commitment under an internationally backed 2003 peace blueprint that, among other things, called for an all-out settlement freeze.

A pan-Arab peace initiative offered in 2002, which the Palestinians endorsed, calls for an end to the conflict if Israel withdraws from all territory Israel occupied in the 1967 Mideast war. It must also accept a sovereign Palestinian state within the West Bank, Gaza Strip and east Jerusalem, and an agreed solution with the Arab world on the fate of millions of Palestinian refugees scattered throughout the region.

Israel opposes a full withdrawal to the pre-1967 war boundaries, though both sides have agreed in principle to a West Bank land swap that would give the Palestinians an equal amount of land to that captured in 1967.

But agreement on future borders seems far away: The Palestinians have refused to resume negotiations with Israel as long as it refuses to curb settlement construction in the West Bank.

Netanyahu on Monday offered to renew the moratorium if the Palestinians would recognize Israel as the Jewish homeland. The Palestinians immediately refused, but Netanyahu also signaled he would be willing to renew the curbs if the U.S. offered an attractive incentive.

The Palestinians also say acceptance of Israel as a Jewish state would compromise the rights of Israel's 1.5 million Arab citizens and the rights of Palestinian refugees. They say it is sufficient that they recognize Israel's right to exist.


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