OCCUPIED JERUSALEM: Israel's chief peace negotiator on Thursday accused a key coalition partner of deliberately seeking to sabotage talks with the Palestinians by ramping up settlement construction.
Speaking just hours before the arrival of US Secretary of State John Kerry on his second visit within a week, Justice Minister Tzipi Livni accused the far-right national religious Jewish Home of deliberately promoting settlement projects in a bid "to derail" the ongoing negotiations.
"More building, more announcements of building in isolated settlements are meant to prevent us reaching peace," she told an audience at Tel Aviv University in remarks broadcast Thursday on public radio.
"That is their deliberate intention, to derail the negotiations. To cause the other side to walk out of the room," she said.
Jewish Home controls the housing ministry, giving it a key role in promoting Israeli construction on land the Palestinians want for a future state.
"When one speaks of the Jewish Home's veto power in the government, everyone is concerned with its veto on issues of religion and state," said Livni, whose centrist HaTnuah party is also part of the coalition.
"They have another veto -- with more (settlement) building, they place a veto on peace. They must not be allowed to use this informal veto, this illegitimate veto," she said.
Kerry is due to arrive in the evening for another round of shuttle diplomacy aimed at driving forward the peace talks, which have been brought to the brink of collapse by a series of major settlement announcements, enraging the Palestinians.
Deputy Foreign Minister Zeev Elkin, of the ultra-nationalist Yisrael Beitenu, said the talks would go nowhere as long as the Palestinians refused to recognise Israel as a Jewish state and to accept an Israeli military presence along the eastern edge of their future homeland, bordering Jordan.
"So far the Palestinians say 'no' to everything; so Kerry can come here many more times but... I don't think anything is going to change," he told public radio.
During the trip, Kerry will meet Netanyahu and President Shimon Peres in Jerusalem and Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas in Ramallah before heading to Jordan on Friday from where he will continue on to Asia.