A senior member of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's Likud Party said in an interview broadcast Sunday that the Israeli government 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.
Netanyahu's office rushed to distance itself from the comments by Deputy Defense Minister Danny Danon, a rising star in the Likud.
Danon said in comments broadcast on Israel Radio that the government would not agree to 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 from Jordan in 1967.
The Palestinians say final borders between Israel and a future Palestine must be based on the 1967 lines. Israeli hardliners oppose a broad withdrawal from the West Bank on both security and religious grounds.
"We are a nationalist government and not a government that will establish a Palestinian government in 1967 lines," Danon said.
Danon went even further in comments to the Times of Israel news site last week, saying that hawks inside the governing coalition will never allow a Palestinian state to be formed.
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 opinion.
Speaking to his Cabinet Sunday, Netanyahu said the government must speak in unison if he is to achieve his goal of restarting peace negotiations.
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 and advance a way to find an opening for negotiations with the Palestinians in order to reach an agreement," he said. "That agreement will be based on a demilitarized Palestinian state that recognizes the Jewish state and solid security arrangements."
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. But so far, there have been no signs of progress.
Israel's chief negotiator with the Palestinians, Tzipi Livni, said Sunday that she is working hard together 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."
But the top Palestinian negotiator, Saeb Erekat, said Danon's remarks outline Israel's policy. "I believe that a government who continues to tender settlements and refuses the two state solution will not go for peace," he said.