In a marked change in emphasis from a speech at the same podium four years ago, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday voiced doubt over the possibility of a two-state solution, citing the Palestinian leadership’s refusal to recognize Israel as a Jewish state.
Speaking at the 20th anniversary ceremony of Bar-Ilan University’s Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies, the prime minister placed blame for the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict on Ramallah’s refusal to come to terms with Israel as a Jewish state.
“The Palestinians must abandon their refusal to recognize the right of the Jewish people to have their national state,” he said.
Netanyahu dismissed claims that Israel’s presence in the West Bank stood at the heart of the conflict, stating instead that as long as the Palestinians don’t internalize the Jewish state’s right to exist, there will not be peace.
“In order for the process in which we find ourselves to be significant… in order for it to have a real chance of success,” he said, referring to the current rounds of negotiations begun this summer, “it’s necessary to hear the Palestinian leadership finally say that it recognizes the right of the Jewish people to a state of its own, which is the state of Israel.”
“I hope that it shall be so, so that we can advance a real solution to the conflict,” continued Netanyahu.
The prime minister stated that the conflict between the Jews and Arabs began not in 1967, when Israel captured the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem in the Six Day War, but in 1921, when Palestinian Arabs attacked a building in Jaffa that housed Jewish immigrants.
He also called for Palestinians to give up on their demand for Palestinian refugees and their descendants to return to areas now inside Israel. “The Palestinians must abandon their [demand for a] right of return,” he said.
And he said any agreement would need to address Israel’s security needs. “After generations of incitement, we have no confidence that recognition [of Israel] will trickle down to the Palestinian people. Therefore, we need very strong security arrangements, and to go forward without blindness.”
In 2009, also speaking at Bar-Ilan University, Netanyahu said that “if we get a guarantee of demilitarization, and if the Palestinians recognize Israel as the Jewish state, we are ready to agree to a real peace agreement, a demilitarized Palestinian state side by side with the Jewish state.”
The speech was seen as a major milestone, marking the first time the prime minister openly endorsed a two-state solution.
Israel and the Palestinians restarted peace talks in July, committing themselves to a US-brokered effort to reach a permanent accord within nine months, though officials said recently negotiations have become stuck over a number of issues, including land swaps and recognizing Israel as a Jewish state.
Earlier Sunday, Palestinians in Ramallah held a rally calling for Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to pull out of the talks. In Jerusalem, a number of Israeli politicians also called for Netanyahu to rethink negotiations after a suspected terror attack in the settlement of Psagot in which a 9-year-old girl was shot and slightly injured.
Netanyahu also addressed the Iranian nuclear issue, reiterating his distrust of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani’s peace overtures to the West at the United Nations and saying Iran aspires “to rule the entire Middle East” and destroy the state of Israel.
He repeated his insistence that Iran abandon its uranium enrichment capacity and dismantle its plutonium core, saying those apparatuses are “not necessary at all for [civilian] nuclear energy,” and that only a state seeking a bomb would refuse to give them up.