JERUSALEM – A senior Israeli official on Sunday said that the ruling Likud Party will not accept a Palestinian state with the borders favored by the Palestinians and the international community, a new hurdle to U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry's effort to restart peace talks in his latest visit to the region.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu moved to distance himself from the comments by his deputy defense minister, Danny Danon.
In a TV interview, Danon said "there is certainly no majority" in the Likud for establishing a Palestinian state based on Israel's borders before the 1967 Mideast war.
The Palestinians seek an independent state in the West Bank, east Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip, areas captured by Israel in 1967. The Palestinians say final borders between Israel and a future Palestine must be based on the 1967 lines. Israeli hard-liners oppose a broad withdrawal from the West Bank on both security and religious grounds.
"A Palestinian state on the 1967 lines is something dangerous for Israel, and therefore I oppose that idea," Danon told Channel 2 TV. He said it was possible that the broader coalition government, which includes other hard-line parties, also opposes a return to the 1967 lines.
The international community, including the U.S., has endorsed the 1967 lines as the basis for border talks. While Netanyahu says he supports Palestinian independence, he has refused to commit to any borders, saying only that all issues of disagreement should be resolved in negotiations.
Officials in Netanyahu's office said that Danon had stated a personal opinion, and his comments did not reflect government policy.
In a veiled reference to Danon, Netanyahu told his Cabinet on Sunday "the government must function as one unit" in order to confront the many challenges facing the country.
Netanyahu linked the recent troubles along Israel's front with Syria to the Palestinian issue, telling his Cabinet that the planned withdrawal of Austrian peacekeepers from the Golan Heights shows that Israel cannot rely on others to protect its security. Austria announced the pullout from a U.N. peacekeeping force along the Israeli-Syrian frontier after rebels briefly overran a border crossing.
The incident "underscores the fact that Israel cannot depend on international forces for its security," Netanyahu said. "they can be part of the arrangements. They cannot be the basic foundation of Israel's security."
Netanyahu said he would raise this concern with Kerry. Netanyahu has previously rejected suggestions that international forces patrol areas that Israel relinquishes as part of a peace agreement with the Palestinians. The Palestinians have said they would accept international forces but would never allow the Israeli military to remain in their territory.
Kerry has been shuttling between the sides in recent months in hopes of finding a formula to restart negotiations. He is expected in the region this week on what would be his fifth visit since becoming Secretary of State early this year.
Netanyahu told the Cabinet that he will discuss the impasse with Kerry.
"Together we will try to advance a way to find an opening for negotiations with the Palestinians with the goal of reaching an agreement. This agreement will be based on a demilitarized Palestinian state that recognizes the Jewish state, and on solid security arrangements based on the Israeli military," he said.
Talks have been stalled since late 2008. The Palestinians have refused to return to the negotiations until Israel ends construction in territory it wants for a future state. Israel says that settlements, along with other core issues like security, should be resolved through talks and have frequently called for negotiations to resume immediately without preconditions.
Kerry has been searching for a formula that would curtail most settlement construction, provide security guarantees to Israel and economic incentives to the Palestinians. So far, there have been no signs of progress.
Israel's chief negotiator with the Palestinians, Tzipi Livni, said Sunday that she is working with the U.S to restart talks, despite those within the government that oppose it.
"It is true that within the Likud there are radical elements and within the government there are those that oppose an agreement," Livni told Israel Radio. "The prime minister is the one who will have to decide whether he surrenders to radical elements or will promote his policy that he declared," she said.
Livni said Danon's comments "look bad."
The top Palestinian negotiator, Saeb Erekat, said Danon's remarks reflect Israel's policy. "I believe that a government that continues to tender settlements and rejects the two state solution will not go for peace," he said.