JERUSALEM: The Israeli Foreign Minister, Mr Avigdor Lieberman said today that his ultra-nationalist, Mr Yisrael Beitenu party would block any attempt to extend a partial moratorium on settlements due to expire on September 26.
But the Palestinians warned that failure to extend the 10-month halt to most new settlement construction in the West Bank outside annexed Arab east Jerusalem would spell the end of peace talks relaunched with great fanfare in Washington on Thursday.
Mr Lieberman insisted “there is no need to extend the freeze” in an interview with Israeli army radio. “Yisrael Beitenu has enough power in the government and in parliament to ensure that no such proposal succeeds,” he said.
The ultra-nationalist party led by the tough-talking Soviet-born Lieberman is the second largest faction in the governing coalition after the Prime Minister, Mr Benjamin Netanyahu’s right-wing Likud party, which also opposes any extension.
On Sunday, Mr Lieberman reportedly brushed off the latest round of talks, from which he has been largely sidelined.
“I do not believe that a comprehensive agreement with the Palestinians is possible within a year, nor even during the next generation,” he told Mr Yisrael Beitenu members at a party function, according to army radio.
Direct peace talks, which the Palestinians broke off when Israel launched a devastating offensive against the Islamist-ruled Gaza Strip in December 2008, resumed in Washington on Thursday with the target of a deal within a year.
However, the Palestinian President, Mr Mahmud Abbas reportedly said during a visit to Libya on Sunday that he had warned Mr Netanyahu and top US officials that he would quit the negotiations if Israel resumed settlement construction.
The negotiations “will last through this month and, if the Israeli government extends the decision to halt settlements, then we will continue the negotiations. If they do not, then we will walk out,” the Palestinian newspaper Al-Ayyam quoted Abbas as saying.
Mr Netanyahu has said settlements should be discussed alongside other core disputes that have bedevilled past attempts at peace, including the final status of Jerusalem and the fate of Palestinian refugees. He has given no indication he intends to extend the settlement restrictions.