Israel has no choice in the current political reality but to continue its control of the West Bank, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Wednesday, asserting that the Palestinians have yet to meet the basic requirements outlined by the government for a final peace agreement between the two nations.
Netanyahu told a special Knesset debate on the two-state solution that he was in favor of the idea, but in practice did not see it being possible unless the Palestinians recognize Israel as a Jewish state and agree to a demilitarized state.
He also rejected the claim that Israel’s policies in the West Bank were driving the current round of violence, as asserted by some officials in the international community.
Netanyahu has held fast to both demands of recognition and demilitarization since accepting the idea of a two-state solution in 2009, but they have never been formally accepted by the Palestinian Authority.
“It’s only natural that they give us what they are asking for themselves,” the prime minister said of his requirement for Palestinian recognition of Israel as a Jewish state.
He added that experience has taught Israel that only the IDF can guarantee a full disarmament of the West Bank, not the UN or any other international force.
“There is no security separation. None. It doesn’t exist,” Netanyahu said. “Israel must be responsible for its security,” he continued, adding that without mutual recognition and disarmament, the Jewish state could not afford to sign a peace agreement with the Palestinians.
The prime minister also appeared to mock opposition leader Isaac Herzog over his recent acknowledgment that a negotiated two-state solution was not currently possible and his call for Israel to take unilateral action.
“Good morning, Bougie,” he called out, using Herzog’s nickname. “It seems you are the last to realize the reality.”
Netanyahu said that in light of the string of protests which flared across the Arab world in 2011, he began doubting the feasibility of achieving a two-state solution. He characterized the Arab Spring uprisings as “anti-West, anti-liberal, anti-Israel,” and said he faced “serious criticism” for his assessment.
“My responsibility as prime minister is not to dig my head in the sand,” he said. “We are fighting the enemy inside our borders and outside them.” The prime minister referred to the upgraded security fence at the border with Egypt, without which he claimed Israel would have been “overrun” with migrants and subject to infiltration by jihadist terrorists.
“In the face of the incredible changes around us… in the current circumstances, we can’t implement two states for two nations,” he said.
Netanyahu said that while he had no desire of creating a binational state, if the West Bank were to be evacuated by Israel the region would be overrun by Islamist extremists who strive to destroy Israel.
The prime minister added that Palestinian children in the West Bank were being taught to “liberate” Israel in its entirety — including Haifa, Acre, Jaffa. “No one is talking about ’67,” he said of the Palestinians. “They’re talking about ’48.”
Netanyahu rejected statements that Palestinian terrorism stems from “desperation.”
“Terror is not a result of occupation,” he said, in an apparent reference to comments along these lines by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon. “The terror stems from a culture of death. Its goal is not to free a state, it is to destroy a state.”
“Terror is the result of a totalitarian ideology” and a desire to kill Jews, the prime minister said.
Herzog, for his part, said Netanyahu’s words were “hollow,” adding that he believed it was possible to achieve security for Israeli citizens by ensuring a separation between the Jewish state and the Palestinians, but that the prime minister was uninterested in such a solution.
“You do not really intend to separate from the Palestinians, we may surround the state with fences, but the Palestinians will remain among us,” the Zionist Union leader said. Herzog warned that “without separating from the Palestinians, Israel will turn into an Israel-Arab state,” and Jerusalem will have “an Arab mayor.”
The opposition head further blamed the prime minister for ignoring other difficulties facing Israeli society, such as the price of housing and cost of living.
“You have even failed at guaranteeing ‘life itself’,” Herzog said, referring to a 2015 tweet by Netanyahu regarding the Iranian nuclear threat in which the prime minister stated that “when we talk about the price of housing, about the cost of living, I don’t forget life itself for a single moment.”
Earlier in the week, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas said the actions of Israeli extremists were driving a nearly five-month long wave of attacks.
UN chief Ban and others have blamed the violence on Palestinian desperation over the lack of a political horizon after years of stalled peace efforts.
The last round of US-brokered Israeli-Palestinian talks fell apart in 2014 amid mutual recriminations.