Israel: Construction Not Root of Palestinian Conflict

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JERUSALEM, Israel -- The stalemate in Israeli-Palestinian peace talks has nothing to do with Israel's decision to continue building in eastern Jerusalem neighborhoods, but is rooted in basic Palestinian ideology, an Israeli government minister said on Thursday.

Minister Benny Begin was speaking to a small group of journalists and diplomats in Jerusalem. Earlier, the Wall Street Journal reported that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu rejected a White House demand that Israel freeze Jewish construction in eastern Jerusalem.

Begin: Impossible to Limit Construction

"It is just impossible and not acceptable that people try to impress us that we should limit construction in Jerusalem," Begin said. "Jews and Arabs can live throughout the city. This policy will be retained."

According to earlier media reports, the Obama administration gave Israel a list of demands - top among them was the halt to building in Jewish areas in eastern Jerusalem, where Palestinians want the capital of a future Palestinian state.

Israel united the entire city under it's sovereignty as a result of the 1967 Six-Day War.

Controversy erupted between Israel and the U.S. when Israel announced a building project in an existing Jewish neighborhood in eastern Jerusalem during the visit of U.S. Vice President Joe Biden last month.

Palestinians then refused to start indirect Israeli-Palestinian talks until Israel halted all building in eastern Jerusalem.

Peace with Palestinians Still Far Off

But Begin said that the roots of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict go much deeper than Jewish homes being built in eastern Jerusalem.

Begin is the son of former Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin, who signed a peace accord with Egypt in 1979 - the first peace agreement between Israel and any of its Arab neighbors.

But he says peace with the Palestinians is far off.

"Unless the leadership of our neighbors changes their view and their philosophy very little actually would be achieved in the foreseeable future, in the road towards final (peace) settlement (between) Jews and Arabs west of the Jordan River," Begin said.

"(Jerusalem) clarifies issue that might be a little bit foggy otherwise," he said.

Begin pointed to two offers made to the Palestinians in the past 10 years. In 2008, then Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert proposed that Israel withdraw from 98 percent of the West Bank and Gaza Strip and swap sovereign Israeli territory for the other 2 percent.

He also offered to partition Jerusalem into Arab and Jewish neighborhoods and relinquish Israeli control of the Temple Mount into the hands of a consortium made up of Saudi Arabia, Jordan, the U.S., Israel and the PLO, Begin said.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas said Olmert even offered to recognize the right of return for some Palestinian refugees to within Israeli borders - though Olmert denied it.

Abbas rejected the offer, Begin said.

In 2000, then Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak also reportedly offered to divide Jerusalem and the P.A. Chairman Yasser Arafat rejected the offer. Former U.S. President Bill Clinton even blamed Arafat for the collapse of peace talks at that time.

The Real Palestinian Agenda

Begin said though he opposed those two offers, made by politicians far more liberal than he is, he said it shows that the Palestinians have a different agenda.

Last summer, the Fatah faction of the PLO held an historic meeting in Bethlehem, during which they reaffirmed their original charter instead of altering it, Begin noted.

"'The goals, principles and methods as they are written in chapter one of the Fatah charter are the basic point of departure for our movement and are part of the ideological, political identity of our people,'" Begin quoted the conference as saying.

Chapter one, article 19 says, "Armed struggle is a strategy, not a tactic. The armed resolution of the Arab Palestinian people is a crucial element in the battle for liberation and for the elimination of the Zionist presence. This struggle will not stop until the Zionist entity is eliminated and Palestine is liberated," Begin quoted the charter as saying.

The State of Israel is not there, only a "Zionist entity," Begin said.

"Some people I know would belittle political platforms, would belittle writings, ideologies, formulations. I think we should take them seriously," Begin said, "Because it then dictates the political behavior of the leadership."

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Julie Stahl

Julie Stahl

Correspondent, CBN News Jerusalem Bureau

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