Last year’s peace talks with the Palestinian Authority failed not because of Israeli settlement expansion, but because the Palestinians are simply not ready for peace yet, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu charged Sunday.
Speaking to the Brookings Institution’s 11th annual Saban Forum in Washington via a prerecorded video, Netanyahu said continued incitement proved Ramallah was not prepared to make peace with Israel, and layed out Israel’s three main demands of the Palestinians.
“The talks ended because the Palestinians wanted them to end,” Netanyahu said.
He charged that negotiations broke down because Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas entered a unity government with the Hamas terror group and because the Palestinians rejected the security arrangements Israel demanded.
“Unfortunately, the Palestinian leadership is simply not prepared, and I hope this changes, but it’s not yet prepared to truly confront violence and fanaticism within Palestinian society, within their own ranks,” Netanyahu added.
“For nine months we negotiated with the Palestinians, but they consistently refused to engage us on our legitimate security concerns, just as they refused to discuss recognizing Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people, while at the same time insisting that Israel recognize a nation-state of the Palestinian people.”
The prime minister accused the PA leadership of fueling violence against Israel. “It engages in incitement day in and day out,” he said. “I think it’s important to confront this. I don’t think sticking our head in the sand promotes real peace and I don’t believe that false hopes promote real peace. I think they just push peace further away.”
Real peace will only come once the Palestinians accept “the three pillars of peace,” Netanyahu said: recognition of Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people; an end to all claims, including the right of return; and a long-term Israeli security presence in the West Bank.
“I will never give up on this triangle of true peace,” he vowed.
In his comments, Netanyahu did not directly address reports of an Israeli strike on military sites in Syria hours earlier.
But he said Israel was challenged by “unprecedented instability afflicting the entire region.
“Where once seemingly coherent nations and clearly defined borders stood, we now see chaos — in Iraq, in Syria, in Libya, in Yemen and Lebanon,” he continued.
The collapse of the Middle East’s old order has made “pragmatic Arab governments” understand that Israel is not their enemy, the prime minister said, saying that Jerusalem and its moderate Arab neighbors have much to gain by cooperating. “And this cooperation could, in turn, open the door to peace.”
Netanyahu also said Israel had helped head off a bad deal with Iran last month. “A November 24 deadline for an agreement has come and gone, and that’s fortunate,” he said. “Our voice and our concerns played a critical role in preventing a bad deal… We must use the time available to increase the pressure on Iran from developing a nuclear arms capability.”
The major powers and Iran agreed to extend the deadline for a deal in Iran nuclear talks to June 30. Israel has objected persistently to any deal that would leave Iran with uranium enrichment capacity. The United States and other powers say that a minimal capacity is likely in a final deal.
Despite Israel heading toward new elections, which effectively freezes all current legislation, Netanyahu also vowed he would not pass any law that “undermines Israel’s democratic character,” responding to critics of a bill he has pushed enshrining Israel’s character as a Jewish state.
Israelis are proud to have created “a genuinely democratic state” that guarantees “equal rights for all its citizens, regardless of race, religion or sex,” he said. “And this will not change. In standing up for Israel’s identity as the nation-state of the Jewish people, I will never agree to legislation that undermines Israel’s democratic character. Not now, not ever.”
JTA contributed to this report.