The Cable

Obama Admin Shrugs at Netanyahu’s Appointment of Peace Process Opponent

The State Department on Monday shrugged off a decision by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to appoint Silvan Shalom, a politician who has publicly opposed the creation of a Palestinian state, as his chief negotiator for the long-stalled peace talks.

JERUSALEM, ISRAEL - DECEMBER 5:  In this handout image supplied by the Israeli Government Press Office (GPO),
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu holds a joint press conference with US Secretary Of State John Kerry on December 5, 2013 in Jerusalem, Israel. Kerry is also expected to meet with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas during his two day trip to the region. (Photo by Kobi Gideon / GPO via Getty Images)
JERUSALEM, ISRAEL - DECEMBER 5: In this handout image supplied by the Israeli Government Press Office (GPO), Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu holds a joint press conference with US Secretary Of State John Kerry on December 5, 2013 in Jerusalem, Israel. Kerry is also expected to meet with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas during his two day trip to the region. (Photo by Kobi Gideon / GPO via Getty Images)

The State Department on Monday shrugged off a decision by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to appoint Silvan Shalom, a politician who has publicly opposed the creation of a Palestinian state, as his chief negotiator for the long-stalled peace talks.

For months, the Obama administration hinted that it might support French efforts to craft a United Nations Security Council resolution that would set a deadline for a peace deal. The willingness to consider such a shift reflected U.S. anger over statements Netanyahu made in March disavowing a two-state solution. To date, the administration has stopped short of taking any formal measures at the U.N., saying it was waiting to see how Netanyahu would form his new government and what policies it would pursue.

But the appointment of Shalom, who has also expressed support for West Bank settlement construction, did not spark any criticism from the State Department.

“We continue to believe that a two-state solution is vital,” State Department spokesman Jeff Rathke said Monday. “It’s not a secret that the new Israeli government includes cabinet members who do not necessarily believe in that premise.”

Shalom, the deputy prime minister and interior minister, will assume the chief negotiation position previously held by Tzipi Livni, who served as justice minister before getting canned by Netanyahu in December, a move that was followed by snap elections.

In principle, Livni supported a two-state solution and advocated for a peace deal — a position that is starkly at odds with Shalom’s. In May 2012, Shalom said that leaders of his right-wing Likud party oppose the creation of a Palestinian state. “We are all against a Palestinian state, there is no question about it,” he said in a meeting with Likud activists in Rehovot.

During a trip to the city of Ariel in the West Bank that same year, Shalom said he had opposed Netanyahu’s decision to freeze the construction of settlements for 10 months in 2009. “Freezing was a mistake,” he said. The left-leaning Israeli newspaper Haaretz has documented similar statements made by Shalom on settlements and the creation of a Palestinian state over the years here.

An official from the Palestine Liberation Organization slammed the appointment on Monday. “He does not believe in a Palestinian state. He’s against a two-state solution,” the official told AFP. “It’s not an issue of names. It’s an issue of policy.”

Successive U.S. governments have opposed the construction of Israeli settlements on Palestinian land as “illegitimate” and counterproductive to efforts to strike a peace deal between the two sides.

The Obama administration’s mellow response to Shalom’s appointment follows its efforts to delay measures at the U.N. Security Council designed to force movement on the stalled Israeli-Palestinian peace process. The U.S. has been leaning on France and other allies to delay the effort while it’s in the middle of Iran nuclear negotiations, as first reported by Foreign Policy in April.

 

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