Getting to a peace agreement with the Palestinians would take at least another year of negotiations, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in remarks aired Sunday, while promising that Jerusalem will not give up its “security and national needs” in any deal.
Netanyahu said a framework deal being drafted by the Americans, which he recently said will only represent Washington’s positions, could offer “a possible path to advance the talks.” But a final status deal would still be a long way off.
“It will take at least a year to see the talks through to their conclusion,” he said, adding that the Palestinians may reject the American framework plan.
Netanyahu made the comments to Israel Radio, in one of a series of Hebrew-language interviews over the weekend recorded in California that broke a more-than-year-long boycott of the Israeli press by the prime minister.
In remarks aired Friday by Channel 2 news, Netanyahu said the Palestinians were “a very long way” from being ready for a peace deal.
However, he told Israel Radio that Jerusalem was willing to reach an agreement provided certain conditions were met
“If there’s a peace [deal] that I think serves our security and national needs, I’ll bring it” and work to support its passage, Netanyahu said.
“No pressure will be needed,” he said, “because I’ll do it willingly. [But] if they try to force on us an agreement that endangers our security and our vital interests, I won’t pass it. I’ll stand against it.”
He added: “I think I showed, in this visit [to the US] and over the past five years, that I can stand against these pressures.”
A sign of the pressure Netanyahu is under to show his commitment to the talks came in a rebuke-filled interview US President Barack Obama gave to Bloomberg, in which he denounced continued settlement construction, warned that the US might no longer be able to protect Israel in the international arena, and predicted that “the window is closing for a peace deal.”
According to the interviewer, columnist Jeffrey Goldberg, Obama was prepared to tell Netanyahu at the White House meeting on Monday last week that if the Israeli prime minister failed to endorse the framework document for the peace talks, Israel “could face a bleak future — one of international isolation and demographic disaster.”
Netanyahu downplayed the significance of the US president’s remarks.
“I don’t get disappointed or insulted. If I did I wouldn’t be able to function, and I’m already serving my ninth year [as PM],” he said. He also pointed to distinctly more upbeat rhetoric from the US president during their White House meeting.
“The things President Obama said at the beginning of our meeting in the White House, and then during the meeting, were remarkably different. So the question is what’s preferable: To have a critical interview and a positive meeting, or the other way around? I prefer the positive meeting,” he said.
Asked if the politics of Israel’s ruling coalition, which includes parties vocally opposed to any deal that sees an Israeli withdrawal from any part of the West Bank, would be an obstacle to accepting the American framework proposal, Netanyahu rejected the idea.
“I don’t think so. People understand that when entering the negotiations, Israel is holding to its positions. [The framework proposal] is a document, not a signed agreement, but will be an American document with American positions. The Americans are saying, ‘Look, this is a platform over which you can start to debate.’”
The current nine-month round of talks agreed to by both sides is slated to end by late April. US Secretary of State John Kerry has called for the talks to continue after that deadline.
During the interview, Netanyahu refused to reject outright a new settlement construction freeze or unilateral withdrawal, though he noted these measures were unsuccessful in the past.
Regarding the freeze, he noted “we’ve already done a freeze” in 2010. “Did it deliver anything? I don’t see the point. “I haven’t agreed or committed to pass a decision on a freeze,” he said. “I don’t think it serves a purpose.”
Speaking to Channel 2 in remarks aired Friday, Netanyahu said Israel would have to give up some settlements in a future peace deal.
“Of course some of the settlements won’t be part of the deal, everyone understands that,” Netanyahu said. “I will make sure that [number] is as limited as possible, if we get there.” He pledged that no Israeli would be “abandoned.”
He also argued against – but refused to outright reject, despite prodding from interviewer Chico Menashe – a unilateral withdrawal similar to the 2005 Israeli pullout from the Gaza Strip.
“I prefer not to reach such possibilities, but to advance in negotiations. So far, unilateralism hasn’t proven itself. It didn’t create stability and security, but rather [brought about] Iran’s capture of every tract we left. We haven’t gotten anything good from this, only a lot of rockets.”
Raphael Ahren contributed to this report.