Israel will never relinquish security control of the entirety of the West Bank, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop on Sunday.
Netanyahu was answering Bishop, who had asked him what he meant when he spoke of supporting a “Palestinian state,” according to a report by Israel Radio about the meeting between the two.
According to a source close to the prime minister, Netanyahu told Bishop that Israel’s insistence on security control stemmed from the failures of international forces to protect the country from past acts of aggression by its neighbors.
The source spoke during a briefing Sunday for Israeli reporters accompanying Netanyahu on a state visit to Australia, the first for a serving Israeli prime minister.
The visit was “wonderful,” Netanyahu said Sunday just before he boarded the plane for the long flight back to Israel.
During the five-day trip that ended Sunday, Netanyahu met with multiple national leaders, including Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and opposition leader Bill Shorten.
Besides agreements on business and travel links between the two countries, the conflict with the Palestinians arose in each meeting, and Netanyahu’s travels in Sydney were greeted on occasion by pro-Palestinian protesters.
On Friday, after meeting Netanyahu, Shorten said he raised his Labor Party’s concerns about Israel’s settlements with the prime minister.
The pair talked for almost an hour in Sydney, after which Shorten and three Labor colleagues reiterated the center-left party’s support for a two-state solution.
“We want to see Israel safe and secure of its borders; we support the rights of the Palestinian people to have their own state,” Shorten told reporters after the meeting.
“We expressed the view very clearly and unambiguously that where settlements and their expansion are a road block to peace, that’s damaging to the peace process,” he said.
A statement from Netanyahu’s office said the two “discussed diplomatic and regional issues such as Iran, Syria and the Palestinians,” without elaborating. It said the prime minister “stressed the problematic nature of the nuclear agreement with Iran, Iran’s regional aggression and its expansionist aspirations.”
“MP Shorten emphasized the bipartisan nature of admiration for Israel in Australia and reiterated his support for Israel,” it added.
Labor elders frustrated by the lack of progress in finding a two-party solution have called on the party to adopt a policy of recognizing the state of Palestine.
Former Labor prime ministers Kevin Rudd and Bob Hawke, as well as former foreign ministers Gareth Evans and Bob Carr, want Australia to join 137 countries in giving diplomatic recognition to an independent Palestine.
On his first day in Australia on Wednesday, Netanyahu challenged Rudd and Hawke to explain whether they would support a Palestinian state that did not recognize Israel’s right to exist.
“I ask both former prime ministers to ask a simple question: What kind of state will it be that they are advocating? A state that calls for Israel’s destruction? A state whose territory will be used immediately for radical Islam?” Netanyahu said.
Rudd, who was prime minister until a conservative coalition was elected in 2013, replied that the boundaries, internal security, external security, public finance and governance of a Palestinian state have been elaborated in detail in multiple negotiations with US administrations.
Turnbull also supports a two-state solution, but said the Palestinians must also be prepared to come to the negotiating table.
Netanyahu omitted a reference to the two-state solution in a joint declaration Thursday with his Australian counterpart.
About 1,000 pro-Palestinian protesters gathered at Sydney’s Town Hall on Thursday night and complained that Netanyahu was being treated like a celebrity in Australia when he should be tried for war crimes.
Netanyahu met political, business and Jewish community leaders during his stay. He was accompanied by a large security contingent as he traveled around Sydney.
Netanyahu has been to Australia twice before but never as prime minister.
Raphael Ahren and AP contributed to this report.