Israeli Official: Settlements Not the Real Issue

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Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will deliver a major speech this Sunday outlining Israel's plan for Middle East peace.

One of the senior officials in his government was in Washington Tuesday to deliver an address of his own and provide a possible glimpse of what to expect from Netanyahu this weekend.

President Obama said recently that as a friend, the U.S. had to be honest with Israel over issues like Palestinian statehood. Israel's Strategic Affairs Minister Moshe Ya'alon provided some honesty of his own Tuesday at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

"Permanent settlement of the conflict is not easy to achieve as long as the Palestinians do not remove the main obstacle to peace," he said. "Namely by accepting Israel as a Jewish state."

The Obama administration has criticized Israeli settlements in the West Bank as roadblocks to peace. But in the first address to a U.S. audience by a senior official in the new Israeli government, Ya'alon, a former chief of staff of the Israel Defense Forces, said that continued Palestinian terrorism, not settlements, is the real problem.

He cited the aftermath of Israel's 2005 withdrawal from Gaza as an example of what happens when Israel gives up land to the Palestinians.

"The Palestinian response to Israeli withdrawals has demonstrated time and again that the dismantling of Israeli settlements or the Israeli withdrawal from territories does not bring peace, but rather, more war," he said.

The Obama administration would reportedly like to see a political settlement towards a Palestinian state within two years. Ya'alon believes the Palestinians will not be ready for a state in that time frame and that pushing for one so soon would only mean the establishment of what he calls another Hamas-stan, this time in the West Bank. Ya'alon says Israel would not implement such a plan.

Ya'alon laid out five benchmarks which the Palestinians must need to achieve in order to be able to govern themselves effectively.

  • Reform their educational system and its rabid anti-Semitic and anti-Israel teachings.
  • Economic reforms
  • Political reforms, including greater freedom of speech and human rights.
  • An increase in law and order in the Palestinian territories.
  • and security reform, including a crackdown on all terrorism.

Ya'alon says Israel has no desire to govern Palestinians, but did not lend his support to a Palestinian state -- something the Obama administration is pushing hard for.

On the issue of Iran, Ya'alon says the media and western governments are mistaken if they think concessions will lead to better relations. The Iranians, he says, will not reciprocate.

"The mullahs consider the destruction of Israel as just a step on the way to changing the entire world order," he said.

At the end of the day, however, Ya'alon believes that Netanyahu and President Obama are on the same page when it comes to preventing a nuclear-armed Iran.
 

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