Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Thursday said Israel would pursue peace with the Palestinians, but reiterated his insistence on satisfactory security arrangements for Israel.
“Peace is desirable in and of itself, but it is based on our ability to defend ourselves,” Netanyahu said at a ceremony at the Mount Herzl military cemetery marking the 109th anniversary of the death of Zionist visionary Theodor Herzl.
“Without security, without the army, we will be unable to defend the peace. We will be unable to defend ourselves if the peace frays. A basic condition for the existence of peace, for achieving it and for preserving it, is security,” he said.
Netanyahu was speaking just hours before meeting US Secretary of State John Kerry, who will arrive in Jerusalem later Thursday for his fifth visit in the region in just three months.
Israel faces criticism in the international arena that is “outrageous, exaggerated and baseless,” Netanyahu said, “but these accusations still get a hearing, even at the height of the peace process.”
“We want peace because we want to live in peace. We don’t want a binational state,” he continued. “But let’s not delude ourselves — even if we achieve an agreement with the Palestinians, it won’t end the wild accusations that are flung at the state of the Jews.”
A report in the Haaretz daily on Thursday quoted a senior Likud official as saying that Netanyahu would be willing to “withdraw from the majority of the West Bank” and even evacuate settlements in exchange for security arrangements with the Palestinians.
“Netanyahu knows that for a peace deal we need to withdraw from over 90 percent of the West Bank and evacuate more than a few settlements,” the unnamed minister was quoted as saying. “He knows that’s one of the things they’re going to talk about” with Kerry. The minister reportedly added that the key issue for Netanyahu is security arrangements, but noted that should those be met, the prime minister would be willing to make serious territorial concessions.
The minister said Netanyahu was very serious about wanting to resume peace talks, “but he’s not sure” that Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas feels the same.
Another unnamed Israeli source, quoted in the same report, said Netanyahu’s key permanent accord goals were to maintain Israeli control of the major settlement blocs, and to maintain a non-sovereign military presence in the Jordan Valley.
Former foreign minister Avigdor Liberman, for his part, said Wednesday that Abbas is not serious about talks, and predicted that Abbas would scuttle new negotiations shortly after they begin, blame Israel for the collapse, and then go to the UN Security Council in September and seek recognition for Palestine as a state. “It’s clear that the actions Abbas is preparing are not peace negotiations, but rather an additional process of provocation and incitement against the State of Israel,” Liberman said, according to Maariv.
Meanwhile, the second keynote speaker at Thursday’s Mt. Herzl event, President Shimon Peres, sounded a decidedly more optimistic tone than did the prime minister.
“There is a chance for a renewal of the peace process, and we must not let it slip away,” Peres said. “We welcome Kerry’s visit to Israel. His [visit] is an effort to renew the process, and we will all contribute to its success.”
In a speech that dealt primarily with Herzl’s place in Zionist history, Peres repeatedly referenced the need for peace.
“A binational state contradicts Herzl’s vision,” Peres said. “It endangers the Jewish and democratic character of the state of Israel.”
He added: “Violence was absent in Herzl’s vision. Even when it met with violent opposition and was forced to bear sword and shield, the Zionist ethos remained an ethos of peace.”
Speaking Wednesday at a news conference with Kuwait’s emir, Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmed Al-Sabah, on a visit to the Persian Gulf kingdom, Kerry called on Israelis and Palestinians to make an effort to renew peace talks.
“The time is getting near where we need to make some judgments. Last time I was here, I said it’s time for leaders to make some hard decisions,” he said. “That stands. It is time. Why is it urgent? It’s urgent because time is the enemy of a peace process.”