Israelis and Palestinians will “eventually” make peace, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Thursday, indicating that true reconciliation first requires profound changes within the Palestinian people, including a new leader.
“Don’t give up hope. Eventually there will be, I believe, a Palestinian leadership that will emerge and will embrace a genuine peace,” he told a group of young German leaders visiting Israel. “Not a false peace. Not a tactical peace, but a genuine peace.”
Netanyahu did not say when he expected that moment to arrive, though he did not appear hopeful for a peace deal in the near future. He blamed Palestinian refusal to recognize a Jewish state “in any boundaries” for the ongoing conflict, explaining that such recognition is his key condition for any peace deal. “We want to know that we have a partner that accepts our right to exist,” he said.
It was unclear whether the Palestinians would ever recognize Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people, he said, “but the day it [happens], then we’ll have peace. We’ll have the real breakthrough to peace.”
Until that moment, Israelis will continue building their state, the prime minister said. “We will build our creativity, our economy, our culture, our television programs — every realm of human creativity. And forge those links with those Arab states who want to see the defeat of medievalism and the triumph of modernity, and get everyone else to join in this common effort because the future of our world, not just the future of Israel, the future of your world, depends on our success.”
Netanyahu was addressing a group of 200 young Germans leaders who had never previously been Israel and were invited by the Foreign Ministry on a trip aimed to deepen bilateral ties. The prime minister spoke for almost an hour, talking about Israel’s achievements in the world of technology and science and explaining in great detail his view of the turmoil rocking the Middle East and of Jewish history.
The current wave of Islamic terrorism terrorizing Western liberal democracies is not a clash of civilizations, but a “clash against civilization,” Netanyahu said.
Addressing the German leaders directly, he continued, “We’re merely a gateway to you, we’re just closer to them. If we weren’t here they would move faster,” he said about Islamist terrorists. “If we weren’t here, they would probably disrupt our Arab neighbors who are fighting against this same extremism and increasingly see Israel not as their enemy but as their ally.”
Netanyahu said that while he places Israel firmly in the camp of modern states, he does not want to marginalize the Jewish people’s Biblical attachment to this land. “We were here not a long time ago, only 4,000 years,” he said dryly, dismissing the notion of Israel as an unrooted colonial intruder. “We’re not Belgians in the Congo. Nor are we the French in Algeria or for that matter the Spaniards in Mexico. We’ve been around here a long time. And we recognize that there is another people here, even though they came thousands of years later. They still live here and we have to coexist.”
Recounting the early days of the Zionist movement, Netanyahu said that not many people lived in Palestine at the time. In the middle of the 19th century, the country “was largely depopulated,” he declared. “There were Arabs but there were not many. In the 19th century, this country was a backwater of the Ottoman Empire.”
Netanyahu recounted that his great-grandfather arrived in Palestine in the late 19th century and his grandfather in 1920.
The arriving Jews “caused immigration” to Palestine by Arabs from neighboring countries, he continued, “because there were farms and schools and health clinics and factories.”
In 1922, there were 590,890 Muslims in British Mandate Palestine, compared to 83,794 Jews. By 1945, the numbers had grown to 1,061,270 Muslims and 553,600 Jews.