Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday publicly wished for the emergence of a “Palestinian Ben-Gurion” to lead his people to true and lasting peace with Israel.

In an address marking the 40th anniversary of the death of David Ben-Gurion, delivered at the first prime minister’s home kibbutz, Sde Boker, in the Negev, Netanyahu said Israel was committed to an end-of-conflict agreement with the Palestinians — “two states for two peoples” — and was ready to make compromises to that ends. He said he longed for the emergence of a Palestinian leader who would give “a Birzeit speech” — an address, in Arabic, at the West Bank university, to parallel his own landmark two-state speech delivered at Bar Ilan University in 2009.

The prime minister said it had “not been easy” for him to accept the two-state imperative, and that he knew it was not easy for the Palestinians either. But courageous leadership was required on the Palestinians’ side “to educate their people for peace, even if it takes a generation.”

Peace, he said, “depends on one thing: Israel’s might, which has been massing since Ben-Gurion, with our neighbors’ full knowledge that Israel will respond to anyone who challenges our security.”

Netanyahu added that Israel was negotiating with the Palestinians “while taking an unwavering stance on Israel’s interests. Every negotiation entails compromise, but there are some things on which we refuse to compromise.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu sits with cabinet members for a group photo following a special cabinet meeting at the Sde Boker academy to mark 40 years since the passing of Israel's first prime minister David Ben-Gurion, November 10, 2013. (Photo credit: Kobi Gideon/GPO/Flash90)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu sits with cabinet members for a group photo following a special cabinet meeting at the Sde Boker academy to mark 40 years since the passing of Israel’s first prime minister David Ben-Gurion, November 10, 2013. (Photo credit: Kobi Gideon/GPO/Flash90)

Addressing the issue of Iran’s nuclear drive, Netanyahu noted the improbable alliance of Israel and unspecified other countries in the region, determined to ensure that Tehran not attain nuclear weapons. That confluence of interests, he said, offered tangible new opportunities for peaceful relations between Israel and others in the Arab world.

He stressed that Israel would respond “forcefully and painfully” against any force that threatened the country, doing whatever was necessary to ensure the continued well-being of the Jewish nation.

Turning to the need to make the Negev bloom in accordance with Ben-Gurion’s vision, Netanyahu promised that there would soon be a rapid and dramatic increase in the percentage of Israelis living in the Negev — which has long hovered at around 8 percent. A huge “critical mass” would start flowing south, he vowed.