One week after Deputy Defense Minister Danny Danon said the Israeli government did not support a two-state solution and would work against the creation of a Palestinian state, another deputy minister has joined the chorus.
"The Palestinians are not ready to have a state of their own. They are not even ready for full autonomy," Deputy Minister in the Prime Minister's Office Ofir Akunis (Likud-Beytenu) said Thursday. Considered a close associate of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Akunis is charged with coordinating between the cabinet and the Knesset. He also serves as the chairman of the Knesset Finance Committee.
Speaking to Israel Radio, Akunis said, "The Palestinians cannot be seen as partners for negotiations because they consistently undermine every attempt to rekindle the peace process, rejecting Israel's calls to resume negotiations without preconditions."
Asked whether he supported the two-state solution, Akunis said, "There is a need to conduct dialogue with the objective of striking an agreement, whatever that agreement may be. Personally, I think that under the current regional circumstances, and specifically in regard to the Palestinians, a long-term interim agreement is the preferable option.
"I think that the Palestinians aren't ready, not just for a state of their own, but also for full autonomy. They are not even ready to conduct talks with Israel.
"The Palestinians, and in many respects our good friends in the United States, headed by the man currently coordinating great efforts to bring the Palestinians back to the negotiating table -- Secretary of State John Kerry -- all of them need to understand that Israel's government has a very clear policy. It has been consistent. You can belittle it from the opposition, or from the op-ed pages, but I think that any intelligent, logical person will agree that our policy is both consistent and wise.
"Our policy is that we are extending our hand in peace; Israel wants peace and Israel wants to resume peace talks. We want direct talks without preconditions.
"The prime minister enjoys wide support within Likud and in the coalition. He is backed by a stable coalition on anything having to do with running the country, including on security issues, which are no less important, and diplomatic issues. There is a wide consensus on the need to resume peace talks with the Palestinians -- direct talks without preconditions."
Last week, Akunis remarked that the Palestinians "pose an obstacle to peace."
"Israel wants peace, and if the Palestinians also wanted it the talks would resume today. They are not coming to the table and they are trying to impose preconditions on us," Akunis said at a Knesset meeting on the 2002 Arab peace initiative.
"Efforts to present Israel as an obstacle to peace are embarrassing. Israel is not an obstacle to peace. The settlements are not an obstacle to peace. The Palestinians are an obstacle to peace."
Also speaking to Israel Radio on Thursday, Meretz Chairwoman MK Zehava Gal-On responded directly to Akunis' remarks, saying that his and other legislators' public comments are "exposing the government's true nature."
According to Gal-On, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has no real intention of advancing the peace process, since he is dragging his feet and ignoring the Arab peace initiative, which calls for a land swap.