Israeli minister sees no peace with Palestinians in his lifetime

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JERUSALEM: Israel’s defense minister said on Tuesday that he did not believe a stable peace agreement could be reached with the Palestinians in his lifetime. It has emerged as one of the bleakest assessments from a top-level cabinet member since talks collapsed last year.

Moshe Yaalon, who is also one of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s closest allies, accused the Palestinians of having “slammed the door” on efforts to keep discussions going, and said they had rejected peace-for-land deals for at least 15 years.

Yaalon’s comments, in a speech to a strategic conference, were dismissed by a Palestine Liberation Organization official who told Reuters that Netanyahu’s administration bore the blame for the impasse.

Peace negotiations broke off in April 2014, with disputes raging over Israeli settlement building in the occupied land where Palestinians seek for a state. The dispute intensified since Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’s unity deal with Hamas Islamists who now rule Gaza and do not recognize Israel’s right to exist.

“As for the possibility of reaching an agreement … there is someone who says he doesn’t see one during his term,” Yaalon said, referring to the remarks U.S. President Barack Obama made in an Israeli television interview last week.

“I don’t see a stable agreement during my lifetime, and I intend to live a bit longer,” Yaalon told the Herzliya Conference, held annually near Tel Aviv.

Netanyahu was due to address the forum later in the day.

Palestine Liberation Organization official Wasel Abu Youssef told Reuters past and present Israeli governments had “closed the political horizon” by demanding to retain major settlement blocs and rejecting a right of return for Palestinian refugees.

Youssef said Netanyahu’s administration bore responsibility for the current impasse through its settlement activities, refusal to release jailed Palestinians and the demand that Palestinians recognize Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people.

On the eve of his March 17 election to a fourth term, Netanyahu drew international criticism by saying there would be no Palestinian state if he remained Israel’s leader. He said withdrawal from occupied territory by Israel would embolden hardline Islamist guerrillas arrayed on its borders.

Netanyahu has since sought to row back, insisting he remained committed to a “two-state solution” in which Palestinians would establish a demilitarized country and recognize Israel as the Jewish homeland.

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