Israel’s hardliner Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman admitted Monday a "conflict of interest" with the United States over a settlement freeze as Israel arrested a Palestinian on charges of setting up armed cells in the occupied West Bank.
The settlement deadlock followed reports on Sunday that an Israeli submarine had used Egypt’s the Suez Canal for military training and to send a message to arch-foe Iran.
"Conflict of Interest"
Lieberman, a Jewish settler himself and a resident of Nokdim, a West Bank settlement considered illegal under international law, said Monday he did not want to be blamed for any breakdown in Israel’s talks with its most powerful ally.
He told MPs from his ultra-nationalist Israel Beitenu party that he had seen media reports speculating about why Defense Minister Ehud Barak was holding the talks with U.S. Middle East envoy George Mitchell.
"The diplomatic answer is that the defense ministry, which deals with roadblocks, building permits and humanitarian issues, should deal with this issue," Lieberman said.
"The undiplomatic answer is that there is in my view a clear conflict of interest here involving someone who lives in a small isolated settlement not even attached to the larger settlement blocs," he said.
Weeks of pressure from Washington have failed to bring Israel to an agreement to halt settlements upon which rests the future of re-launching peace talks with Palestinians.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said his right-wing government will not allow the building of new settlements but will also not halt the "natural growth" of existing ones.
The tough-talking immigrant from the former Soviet Union has sparked controversy in the past because of his hard line positions towards Israel’s Arab minority, with critics frequently accusing him of racism.
Gaza "Terror" Infiltrator
On Sunday Israel arrested a Palestinian who it claims infiltrated the country from Gaza with the aim of setting up armed cells in the occupied West Bank.
Abdelrahman Talalkeh was indicted by a court in Beersheva in southern Israel after being netted in a joint operation between police and security services on June 1, a spokesman said in a statement.
The 25-year-old resident of the Nuseirat refugee camp in Gaza was scooped up in the Negev desert after having entered Israel via Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula.
Israel claims the Popular Resistance Committees (PRC), a Palestinian militant group in the Gaza Strip, dispatched Talalkeh "to establish a terrorism infrastructure inside Israel."
He admitted to having undergone extensive military training in the Gaza Strip," the government said.
Israel says Talalkeh trained in the use of small arms and in preparing chemicals, car-bombs and explosive belts, hoping to transfer his knowledge to fellow Palestinians in the Israeli-occupied West Bank as diplomacy fails to bring a halt to the expansion of occupation.
The PRC was one of three groups, including the much larger Islamist Hamas movement ruling Gaza, that jointly claimed responsibility for the capture of the Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit in 2006 in a deadly cross-border raid.
Israeli Submarine in Suez Canal
Also on Sunday Israel seemed to flex its muscles beyond its territory, sending a submarine to the Suez Canal for the first time military training in the Red Sea, in a move that was seen as a message to arch-foe Iran.
The Dolphine submarine entered the canal that connects the Mediterranean and the Red Seas during the day and was escorted by Egyptian navy vessels sometime in June, the Yediot Aharonot daily said.
The daily said that with the move "Egypt and Israel wanted to show their coordination in the face of Iran pursuing its nuclear program."
Previously Israeli submarines rounded the whole of Africa to get to exercises in the Red Sea, Israel’s biggest-selling newspaper said.
Israel, widely considered to be the Middle East’s sole if undeclared nuclear power, suspects Iran of trying to build atomic weapons under the guise of a civilian nuclear program, a charge Tehran has vehemently denied.
(Alarabiya.net and Agencies)