Herb Keinon
The Jerusalem Post
September 22, 2010 - 12:00am

With five days left until the settlement construction moratorium ends, talks are continuing in the US between Israeli, Palestinian Authority and American officials to find a “creative” solution to the issue, even as Jerusalem was preparing for the possibility the PA may indeed walk away from direct talks over the matter.

Government officials said Tuesday that “contingency plans” were being drawn up for dealing with expected diplomatic ricochets if Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas carries out his threat to quit the talks if the moratorium is not extended. Various arguments are being prepared to deflect the blame if the issue is not resolved, according to the officials.

In the meantime, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s chief negotiator Yitzhak Molcho, Defense Minister Ehud Barak, and President Shimon Peres were all in the US holding discussions at various levels on ways to overcome the impasse.

Netanyahu, on a trip to Ashkelon and Sderot on Tuesday, deflected questions regarding one “creative” way that has been floated in recent days, namely for the US to release Jonathan Pollard – who has been jailed in the US for 25 years after being convicted of spying for Israel – in exchange for an Israeli agreement to extend the freeze by three months.

“We don’t need a special event to raise the issue of Pollard,” Netanyahu said. “I spoke about this during my first meeting with President Obama, and I spoke about it with the Americans a number of times, without a connection to this [the settlement moratorium]. We want to bring him back to Israel after 25 years in American jails.”

The prime minister also refrained from answering questions on whether construction in the settlements would resume after the moratorium ended Sunday night, saying to ask him on Monday.

Netanyahu once again urged Abbas to recognize Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people, saying that his failure to do so raised questions about his true intentions, and whether the Palestinians hoped to flood Israel with refugees to erode its Jewish majority, or perhaps to carve “sub-states” out of Israel in areas where there are large Arab populations.

The prime minister’s comments came a day after Abbas, in an interview with the Palestinian Ma’an news agency, said sarcastically that for all he cares, Israel could “call itself the Israeli Zionist Jewish Empire.”

Abbas reiterated that negotiations would only continue under a settlement freeze, and if the settlement moratorium would be extended for one month, he would remain in peace talks for one month.

If, in the end, an agreement with the PA would be reached, Netanyahu said, “it is clear that it will have to come before the people for a decision one way or another.”

As such, he said, he would consider Likud MK Ophir Akunis’s proposal to bring a bill to the Knesset’s winter session next month mandating that any agreement with the Palestinians be voted on in a national referendum.

Netanyahu has not publicly declared whether “bringing the issue to the people” means through a referendum, or perhaps through calling early elections.

In New York Tuesday, Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad left an Ad-Hoc Liaison Committee meeting at the UN furious due to an argument he had with Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon, who refused to agree to a version of the meeting’s summary because it included the words “two states.”

Ayalon suggested instead that it read “two states for two peoples – Jewish and Palestinian,” and demanded guarantees that committee donations don’t go towards incitement or boycotting of Israeli goods.

On Sunday, to celebrate the end of the freeze, Likud activists led by MK Danny Danon plan to rally at the Revava settlement in Samaria and hold a cornerstone-laying ceremony for a new neighborhood there.

National Infrastructures Minister Uzi Landau (Israel Beiteinu) said that, come Sunday, life will move forward in Judea and Samaria.

“We will resume building,” he said, as he toured the Har Bracha settlement in Samaria.

“Next week we will see the Israeli government fulfill its obligation to continue construction in Judea and Samaria. Credibility is important for any government, particularly one that is in the midst of negotiations. Therefore, it is important to hold to the government decision,” said Landau.

Regarding the security situation in the South, Netanyahu warned Hamas not to fire rockets and missiles at Israel.

“Our first commitment is to security, and I recommend that Hamas and the other [terror] organizations not test our determination to respond to the [missile] fire,” he said in a speech in Ashkelon, after being presented with parts of missiles that landed in the city.

“I said that shootings will get a quick response, and this has lowered the amount of missiles,” he said.

“There were shootings recently, and we responded and hit Hamas targets, including a senior Hamas official,” he added. “We will continue with this policy.”


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