MKs to Shapiro: US Taking Side of Palestinians in peace talks

Right-wing lawmakers demand Pollard's release in meeting with US ambassador; MK Rotem asks: Why should we trust you?

Lahav Harkov - The Jerusalem Post - February 25, 2014

MKs in the Land of Israel Caucus competed Tuesday over who could more harshly criticize the US on its position on negotiations with the Palestinians and Israeli agent Jonathan Pollard's continued incarceration.

The lawmakers accused the US of being biased toward the Palestinians in negotiations.

"The American statement of principles cannot be seen as a neutral document that Israel can freely object to," MK Reuven Rivlin (Likud Beytenu) said. "The document creates a reality and puts pressure on Israel in the future and objections won't have any significance in the long term."

"We can win six wars, but we can only lose one," Rivlin warned.

Deputy Transportation Minister Tzipi Hotovely (Likud Beytenu) explained that Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu is "acting in a political arena. Any framework agreement that talks about 1967 lines or that includes evacuating towns or giving up sovereignty in Judea, Samaria and Jerusalem can bring down the current government."

According to Hotovely, there is no real possibility of bridging the differences between the Israeli and Palestinian positions and there is not a majority in the Likud to divide the land.

"Our stances reflect the will of the people of Israel and any attempt to force a diplomatic plan against the voters' will harms Israeli democracy," she emphasized.

According to a source in the meeting, which was closed to press, Shapiro rejected claims that the US is taking the Palestinians' side and is hurting Israel.

"The US is taking part in the negotiations because Israel is our ally," he stated. "A good peace treaty will protect Israel's security and won't hurt Israel."

Shapiro said the US is involved in talks with the Palestinians because Netanyahu asked it to be, and that the US will put out a document based on Israeli and Palestinian recommendations in May.

"Why should Israel trust [the US]?" MK David Rotem (Likud Beytenu) asked. "The US didn't stand behind us in past crises."

The Ambassador also said that, while he does not think this is the last opportunity for peace, the longer the sides wait, the more difficult it will be.

Knesset Finance Committee chairman Nissan Slomiansky (Bayit Yehudi) said that talk about boycotts against Israel by senior US officials legitimizes them, an accusation Shapiro deflected.

MKs saved their harshest language for discussion of the US refusal to release Pollard, who has been in prison for 29 years for spying for Israel.

"It's considered irresponsible to criticize the US publicly, but since this meeting was closed to press, people opened up and used words like 'hostile' and 'alienating,'" a source in the discussion recounted. "The atmosphere was very loaded.

MK Moshe Feiglin (Likud Beytenu) said he doesn't criticize the US when it comes to talks with the Palestinians, because the Israeli government says there is a Palestinian nation that has a right to a country, but when it comes to Pollard, the US should be censured.

"Pollard is a consensus issue on the Right and Left. We all agree his treatment is an injustice," Feiglin stated. "Israel and the US are allies, but this stinks. People who did much worse were already released."

According to Rivlin, "not one American served 30 years in prison because of something like this. If the Americans think 30 years is reasonable, well, in two months 30 years will have passed since his incarceration and then he should be released and returned to his people and his land."

Shapiro, however, said there is no consensus in the US about Pollard and even if some former senior officials said he should be released, others disagree. "The US has rule of law and the law says he should be in prison. Not even the president is above the law," Shapiro stated.

MK Shuli Muallem (Bayit Yehudi) pointed out that US presidents can grant pardons, but Shapiro replied that US President Barack Obama avoids doing so and has pardoned far fewer people than other presidents.

"Don't give us unintelligent excuses. No one in Israel buys them," said MK Orit Struck.

Following the meeting, the caucus sent Shapiro a thank-you note, reiterating that "our brother Jonathan must be freed."

Soon after, Justice Minister Tzipi Livni called the MKs behavior "shameful."

"Their lack of understanding and responsibility are hurting our relations with the superpower that is pivotal to Israel's security," Livni wrote on Facebook.

"Along the way, they also personally bashed Ambassador Dan Shapiro and again hit the wrong man If the MKs have problems, they should talk to the decision-makers here in Israel."

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