Settlements no 'obstacle to peace,' Israeli ambassador says
Published Sunday, January 12, 2014 9:14AM EST
Israeli settlements “have never been an obstacle to peace,” Israel’s ambassador to Canada says, dismissing concerns about his country’s plan to build new homes within existing settlements in the West Bank and east Jerusalem.
Israel announced Friday that 1,400 new homes will be built: 800 in settlements in the West Bank and 600 in settlements in east Jerusalem. The announcement did not come as a surprise, but sparked criticism from Palestinian officials and among some members of the international community concerned about the fate of ongoing peace negotiations.
In an interview with CTV’s Question Period that aired Sunday, Rafael Barak would not discuss Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s approach to the negotiations. However, he noted that Israel entered the new round of peace talks by agreeing to certain conditions, including that it release more than two-dozen Palestinian prisoners, which it did in late December.
“We accomplished our promise to the Americans and to the Palestinians, this was the only condition,” Barak said in an interview from Jerusalem.
“Settlements have never been an obstacle to peace. We withdrew from Gaza, we withdrew from Sinai and for real peace we are ready to make very serious compromises. So the importance is if the Palestinians are ready to come to the table and to act and decide the important issues.”
On Friday, a spokesperson for Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, Nabil Abu Rdeneh, condemned the settlement construction announcement, saying it undermines the "American efforts aimed at creating a peace track toward a two-state solution."
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon responded to the announcement by saying such activity “is an obstacle to peace.”
But Barak said of the peace talks, spearheaded by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, that Israel is confident that “with goodwill and political will, we will be able to finalize these negotiations.
“But it demands compromise, compromise not only from my country, but compromise for the other side, too.”
Israel is not required to halt settlement construction during the peace talks.
Speaking of Ariel Sharon, the former Israeli prime minister who died Saturday after eight years in a coma, Barak said his country’s ex-leader took important steps toward creating peace in the region through his shocking decision to overcome domestic critics and pull troops and settlers out of Gaza.
"He took a serious risk in 2005 when we withdrew from Gaza," Barak said. "He wanted to give peace a chance and he paid a political price."
Meanwhile, Barak said Israel is “very excited” to welcome Prime Minister Stephen Harper when he arrives there next week as part of his first trip to the Middle East.
Harper will also spend time in the Palestinian Authority, as well as Jordan. His visit follows his appointment of Toronto lawyer Vivian Bercovici as Canada’s new ambassador to Israel.