Q: Mark, is Israel doing this just to keep the Americans happy?
Mark Regev: We want to see the peace process move forward. We want to reengage with our Palestinian partners and move forward, not just to negotiate but to actually achieve a peace agreement, a historic agreement with the Palestinians. We believe it is possible and we hope that today’s decision by the Israeli government, for this ten month period of a cessation of settlement activities, will help create the confidence that will energize the process.
Q: Is it a complete cessation? My understanding is that it is a restriction, it is not a freeze and building is still going to go on. Is that right?
Regev: Well, let’s be clear. There will be a ten month moratorium on new housing construction, and on all authorizations for new housing.
Q: But will there be building going on in those ten months in the West Bank? Yes or no? Will there be some building?
Regev: My Prime Minister spoke tonight about the possibility that to meet the needs of the people living there already, in other words if a health clinic or a kindergarten is needed, things like that can go ahead.
But the big issue, the controversial issue, has always been housing construction, and here we have said – something almost unprecedented by the Israeli government – that for ten months this will not be happening, there will be no new authorizations and there won’t be new construction. That is an important step.
Q: Except in East Jerusalem, and that is the sticking point, isn’t it? Because the Palestinians say if you were really serious about restarting peace talks, why not just stop the construction in East Jerusalem for ten months. After all, ten months isn’t a long time. It would be an important gesture.
Regev: Well, obviously we have a different perspective. There is the West Bank and there is Jerusalem. Jerusalem is our sovereign capital. We have the right to relate to it differently, totally differently.
And I would say the following if I could – you don’t seriously expect Israel to accept all the Palestinian positions up front, before negotiations. That is not a realistic expectation.
We want to negotiate. We have made an unprecedented move today. We hope this can kick-start the peace talks forward. If you are looking for excuses not to talk, you can always find them, but it is a mistake. Israelis and Palestinians have to sit together. We have to negotiate and we have to find a way to make peace. That is the challenge that we all face.
Q: It is just that a lot of people are suspicious about the timing of this announcement. Last week Israel approved a plan to build 900 houses in East Jerusalem, in the teeth of opposition from the Americans. President Obama said he thinks it is a dangerous plan, and this announcement now. It looks like a cynical attempt to appease him.
Regev: No, our position is very consistent. We want to move forward in peace and as we have said from the very beginning, we are willing to exercise the greatest possible restraint on the West Bank, where we understand that a future Palestinian state will be established.
Let’s be clear, we want a historical reconciliation. If you ask me whether there are differences between us and the Palestinians on the issue of Jerusalem, of course there are. But surely it is not logical for you to expect, or for anyone to expect, that we accept the Palestinian positions on Jerusalem even before negotiations start. It is not a realistic expectation. Our position is that Jerusalem is the capital of Israel and will remain so.