As Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ended his tour of Washington and touched down in Los Angeles, the Palestinian Authority issued a critical response to his speech at the annual AIPAC policy conference in the American capital, saying the Israeli prime minister was thwarting US peace efforts.
Nabil Abu Rudeineh, spokesman for Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, told the official Palestinian Wafa news agency Tuesday that Netanyahu was “wasting time” by demanding that the Palestinians recognize Israel as a Jewish state.
“Netanyahu’s continued demand [to recognize] a Jewish state is a waste of time and [an attempt] to avoid a just and comprehensive peace agreement,” the news agency quoted Abu Rudeineh as saying.
The spokesman reportedly added that Palestinians and Arabs reject the demand, which is only aimed at “thwarting the American efforts and the negotiations” led by US Secretary of State John Kerry.
On Tuesday, Fatah central committee member Nabil Shaath said Netanyahu’s repeated Jewish state recognition demand and his rejection of Palestinian demands on refugees and international peacekeepers were “totally rejected.”
Shaath said Netanyahu’s comments, which he has made repeatedly in the past, “contravene all the rules of the peace negotiations agreed with the Americans”.
In Washington on Tuesday, Netanyahu addressed the AIPAC conference, speaking about the ongoing civil war in Syria, which has so far claimed the lives of about 140,000 people, as well as the Iranian “charm offensive” which doesn’t square with its aggressive actions or support for violence and bloodshed in the Middle East.
“In the Middle East, bludgeoned by butchery and barbarism, Israel is humane; Israel is compassionate; Israel is a force for good,” Netanyahu said.
“Now, on the other side of that moral divide, steeped in blood and savagery, stand the forces of terror — Iran, Assad, Hezbollah, al-Qaeda and many others.”
Netanyahu said that though Israel has a “great interest” in the success of diplomatic efforts to ensure Iran does not acquire a nuclear weapon, the only agreement it can accept is one which “requires Iran to fully dismantle its military nuclear capability.”
On the Palestinian front, however, Netanyahu was unambiguous in his commitment to the diplomatic track.
“Peace is Israel’s highest aspiration,” he declared. “I’m prepared to make a historic peace with our Palestinian neighbors — a peace that would end a century of conflict and bloodshed. Peace would be good for us. Peace would be good for the Palestinians. But peace would also open up the possibility of establishing formal ties between Israel and leading countries in the Arab world.”
Thanking “the indomitable John Kerry” for his efforts, Netanyahu said the parties were “working together, literally day and night, to seek a durable peace, a peace anchored in solid security arrangements and the mutual recognition of two nation-states.”
He then urged the Palestinian leadership to recognize Israel as a Jewish state.
“Israel is the nation-state of the Jewish people — where the civil rights of all citizens, Jews and non-Jews alike, are guaranteed. The land of Israel is the place where the identity of the Jewish people was forged,” he said.
“It was in Hebron that Abraham bought the Cave of the Patriarchs and the Matriarchs. It was in Bethel that Jacob dreamed his dreams. It was in Jerusalem that David ruled his kingdom. We never forget that, but it’s time the Palestinians stopped denying history.”
“Just as Israel is prepared to recognize a Palestinian state, the Palestinians must be prepared to recognize a Jewish state. President Abbas, recognize the Jewish state, and in doing so, you would be telling your people, the Palestinians, that while we might have a territorial dispute, the right of the Jewish people to a state of their own is beyond dispute.”
He said a move to recognize Israel’s Jewish character on Abbas’s part would communicate that he was “truly prepared” to end the long-standing conflict with Israel and achieve peace.
“You would be telling Palestinians to abandon the fantasy of flooding Israel with refugees, or amputating parts of the Negev and the Galilee,” said Netanyahu.
He acknowledged, however, that not all layers of Palestinian society would welcome such a move. For this reason, he said, stringent arrangements must be made to protect Israel’s security.
“It may take decades for this formal acceptance of Israel to filter down through all layers of Palestinian society. So if this peace is to be more than a brief interlude between wars, Israel needs long-term security arrangements on the ground to protect the peace and to protect Israel if the peace unravels,” he said.
After speaking at the conference, the prime minister made his way to Los Angeles, where he unveiled a new Israeli tourism initiative two years in the making.