By Stuart Winer
Digging heels in on peace concessions, prime minister says ‘the idea that we can give up territory and achieve peace is not right’
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman, along with MK Avi Dichter and IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot, visit a new section of the security barrier between Israel and the West Bank near Tarqumiyah on July 20, 2016. (Haim Zach/GPO)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Tuesday said that Israel must maintain its military control over the West Bank in the event of a peace agreement with the Palestinians.
“The idea that we can give up territory and achieve peace is not right,” Netanyahu told Army Radio in a pre-Shavuot holiday interview.
“In order to assure our existence we need to have military and security control over all of the territory west of the Jordan [River],” he said, reaffirming his commitment to a policy that is rejected by Palestinians, who seek a full Israeli withdrawal from the territory.
In the radio interview, Netanyahu asserted the root of the conflict lies not with Israeli settlements in the West Bank, but rather in Palestinian intransigence regarding recognition of Jewish rights to any part of the land.
Netanyahu’s comments came after visiting US President Donald Trump last week impressed on the prime minister and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas that he is determined to work on a peace agreement.
“It is not because of the territories and the settlements,” Netanyahu said, noting the history of conflict between Jews and Arabs in the area from 1920, long before the establishment of Israel in 1948 and the capture of the West Bank in 1967.
Even before 1967 the Arabs “wanted to get rid of us from Tel Aviv, and after we pulled out of Gaza [in 2005] they [still] want to get rid of us from Tel Aviv,” Netanyahu said. The prime minister said that when Israel proposed to the Palestinians that it relinquish all the territory they want as long as they give up on the right of return for Palestinians who fled in 1948, “they squirm in their seats and are not prepared to give an answer.”
“The root of this problem was and still is that continued refusal by the Palestinians to recognize Israel as a the homeland of the Jewish people in any borders,” Netanyahu said.
Israeli seek peace, but the Palestinians are stuck in their attitude of “not setting up a state but rather negating the existence of a state, the Jewish state,” the prime minister insisted.
As soon as that is changed, “then there is hope for peace, because you can’t build peace on a foundation of lies,” he said.
“There is no nation that knows the price of war more than we do — we want a real peace,” Netanyahu added.
In the interview, Netanyahu also reiterated that moderate Arab states were coming around on Israel. Peace, he assessed, is more likely to come after ties between Israel and other parts of the Arab world are improved.
“There is a change happening. Not necessarily with the Palestinians but in some parts of the Arab world they are understanding that Israel is not the enemy,” he said.
Arab states are internalizing that Israel is an ally against the threats of Iran and of the Islamic State terror group, he said.
On his May 22-23 visit to Israel, Trump reiterated that he was seeking to broker an Israeli-Palestinian accord. While Netanyahu highlighted his skepticism about Abbas’s readiness for a deal, the prime minister did tell Trump that “for the first time in many years — and, Mr. President, for the first time in my lifetime — I see a real hope for change.”
For his part, Trump was adamant in his final speech at the Israel Museum on Tuesday that Abbas and the Palestinians “are ready to reach for peace.”
In the days before and since Trump’s visit, some media reports claimed that moderate Arab states — led by Saudi Arabia — are prepared to offer some improvement in ties with Israel, though not recognition, in return for restarting peace talks with the Palestinians.