Israel's deputy foreign minister expressed disappointment on Tuesday that Arab states were not doing more to support the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, and called on the wealthier Gulf countries to put at least $10 billion into the Palestinian economy.
"I must say we're very disappointed, because the Arab countries could do much more, first and foremost Saudi Arabia," said Minister Danny Ayalon, speaking at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, a think tank. "It's been for too long that people talk, but not walk."
His comments came as Hillary Clinton, meeting with Arab leaders in Morocco, extended her Middle East tour to include a hastily arranged visit with President Hosni Mubarak and other senior Egyptian government officials in Cairo on Wednesday. Her efforts to break a deadlock in the Arab-Israeli peace process became mired in controversy when she praised as "unprecedented" an Israeli proposal to restrain settlement growth in the West Bank – a proposal that fell short of earlier US demands for a complete settlement freeze.
In Morocco, Clinton sought clarify that the US still did not accept Israeli settlements as legitimate and shift the focus of the foreign ministers in attendance away from "recrimination" to democratic and economic reforms.
Ayalon: Israel eager to start talks
Back in Jerusalem, Ayalon said that the government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was taking risks to help the Palestinian economy flourish, but that few reciprocal moves had been made by Arab countries. He maintained that the oil-rich Gulf is one of the few regions across the globe where the economies are sufficiently strong to substantially invest in building up the Palestinians' capacity to run their own state.
He also implied that if it hadn't been for the world's emphasis on a settlement freeze, Israel would have resumed talks with the Palestinians earlier this year.
"We believe that the political dialogue with the Palestinians is very important, and could have started long ago. We have wasted seven long months – not our doing," Ayalon charged. He also said that Israel under Netanyahu has made "far-reaching" offers towards the Palestinians. When asked for examples, he declined to elaborate on what they are.
In an interview with the Monitor on Sunday, Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad insisted on the importance of a settlement freeze as a precondition to talks. He suggested that he was ready to take a page from the Israeli playbook and start expanding Palestinian building in areas under negotiation – creating "facts on the ground," a longtime Israeli tactic. (Read more about Mr. Fayyad and his plan here.)
Hamas rocket could reach Tel Aviv
Meanwhile, a senior Israeli official on Tuesday said that over the past few days, Hamas had successfully test-fired a Iranian-made rocket that could travel 60 kilometers (37 miles), putting the Tel Aviv metropolis within reach. The longer-range rocket extends Hamas's reach from its base in Gaza by about 12 miles.
Maj. Gen. Amos Yadlin told the Israeli parliament's foreign affairs and defense committee, in a closed session, that the successful launch of the rocket into the Mediterranean made it possible for Hamas to reach the southern suburbs of Tel Aviv. Commenting on that information, Ayalon blamed Iran.
"The nuclear ambitions of Iran are not an end in itself," he said. "Everything bad in the Middle East starts with Iran, and the gateway is Syria." He added: "The main obstacle for the Palestinian Authority to be viable is Hamas, and their backers and supporters are undeniably the Iranians."
Also from today: Clinton's push for Arab democracy overshadowed by Israel stance