Ministers' reactions to President Shimon Peres' calls for the resumption of peace talks Sunday showed differences of opinion within the government on how to deal with the Palestinian conflict and border issues.
Peres called for the immediate resumption of peace talks at the World Economic Forum in Jordan, leading Strategic Affairs Minister Yuval Steinitz to quip ahead of a cabinet meeting: "I didn't know that Peres became the government spokesman."
"I think the government has its own spokespeople," Steinitz continued. "The position of President of Israel is respected, but the government makes policy decisions, and I think that every declaration of this sort, certainly on the eve of negotiations, does not help Israel's stance."
Tourism Minister Uzi Landau called pre-1967 lines "Auschwitz borders" ahead of Sunday's cabinet meeting.
Landau's comments, quoting a well-known turn of phrase by former foreign minister Abba Eban from 1969, came after US Secretary of State John Kerry visited the region and called for a treaty based on pre-1967 lines with land swaps.
"What country would start talks that aim to break down its ability to defend itself?" Landau asked. "I hear people talking about a Palestinian state that must be established. There's a long list of Arab states that are falling apart – Syria, Libya, Yemen. The Palestinian Authority with which we once signed an agreement split into Judea and Samaria and Gaza. Why would we work to create a state with unclear chances of survival?"
The Likud Beytenu minister called for the government to be realistic and not "build policies on dreams that may never come true."
"Whoever wants something serious [to come of peace talks] should stay away from the idea of a Palestinian state," he added.
Environmental Protection Amir Peretz provided the opposite view, saying "any diplomatic agreement will certainly be based on '67 lines and land swaps."
The Hatnua minister expressed hope that declarations made by Peres – "who is in Jordan in coordination with the prime minister," Peretz pointed out – will drive a renewal of peace talks.
"Everything happening around us [in the Middle East] requires us to invest as much as possible in the peace process with the Palestinians," Peretz added.
MK Nachman Shai (Labor) took issue with Steinitz's comments, saying "President Peres is the most faithful and believable representative of the State of Israel."
"[Peres'] international activities and appearances promote Israel's interests at all times and in all places. His contributions to our country's international standing and preserving our legitimacy are massive and immeasurable," Shai stated.
The Labor MK criticized Steinitz, who is also International Relations Minister, for criticizing the president for "promoting peace in one of the last opportunities we have" while having a job that "needs to be clarified and defined."
MK Eitan Cabel, also of Labor, praised Peretz for saying that a two-state solution is the only solution to the conflict.
"In light of right-wing attacks, it's important for me to back him and strengthen him in his righteous and important battle to convince the country's leadership to renew the peace process," Cabel said.
Cabel accused the government of dragging its feet and missing an opportunity, despite the Arab League's agreement to land swaps.
"President Peres is a lighthouse in the darkness and shows us what leadership means. Instead of dealing with politics of fear, I call for the prime minister to follow Peres' path, show leadership, and deal in politics of opportunities. If he does so, I and the rest of the peace camp will give him all the necessary support," he stated.