Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told the European Union’s top diplomat Wednesday that he was committed to a two-state solution with the Palestinians, attempting to undo diplomatic damage wreaked by statements seemingly in opposition to a Palestinian state during March electioneering.
Speaking during a joint press conference with EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini, Netanyahu said he would like to end the conflict with the Palestinians once and for all. He added, however, that the Palestinians must recognize Israel as a Jewish state.
“I don’t support a one state solution – I don’t believe that’s a solution at all,” the prime minister said in comments ahead of their private meeting. “I support the vision of two states for two peoples – a demilitarized Palestinian state that recognizes the Jewish state, and I look forward to discussing with you how we can advance that vision forth in a practical, secure and responsible way. I know that you share our goal and we see you as a friend who can help advance it.”
Mogherini responded that Europe supports the establishment of a Palestinian state.
“I believe your recommitment tonight to work on peace and security,” she said.
Mogherini is in the region to try and jumpstart long stagnant peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians.
Earlier Wednesday, she met with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas at his West Bank headquarters.
Mogherini’s aim was to discuss bilateral relations “as well as prospects for the Middle East peace process,” her office said ahead of the trip.
Netanyahu’s comments came a day after he stated that Israel would pursue a diplomatic “settlement” with the Palestinians while working with regional states to attain such a goal.
The prime minister was widely criticized by opponents at home and internationally after telling a reporter on March 16 — the day before Israelis went to the polls — that he would not preside over the establishment of a Palestinian state.
Netanyahu later walked back the remarks, saying that he did support a “sustainable, peaceful two-state solution,” but the White House indicated it would only believe him if his words were backed up by actions.
During the comments with Mogherini, the prime minister also spoke out against the emerging nuclear deal with the Iran, saying the sanctions regime on Tehran was already being rolled back.
“Because of Lausanne, the sanctions are already eroding,” Netanyahu said, referring to an April 2 deal reached in Switzerland, setting out the parameters for an accord to curtail Iran’s suspect nuclear program In recent weeks. “Airbus aircraft have been sold to Iran in direct violation of the sanctions. If pressure is being lifted today, what leverage will remain to ensure that Iran complies tomorrow when there is no pressure when the sanctions are removed? And the answer, the honest answer is: nothing. Nothing will be left to ensure that Iran complies with the deal or that Iran ceases its aggression and its terror.”
Mogherini stressed the close ties between Israel and Europe and assured Netanyahu that Europe is committed to preventing Iran from developing nuclear weapons.
Mogherini’s visit came as Israel’s defense minister unveiled a pilot plan which would have prevented Palestinians from traveling on buses with Israelis into the West Bank.
Netanyahu nixed the plan on Wednesday amid condemnation from Israeli and Palestinian officials and neither he nor Mogherini mentioned the proposal.
Mogherini is scheduled to meet President Reuven Rivlin and opposition leader Isaac Herzog on Thursday.
A European diplomatic source, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Mogherini’s aim was to sound out both sides on the prospects of reviving peace talks which collapsed in April 2014.
Earlier in the day, Mogherini met with deputy foreign minister Tzipi Hotovely, who is serving as Israel’s de-facto top diplomat.
Hotovely told Mogherini the new Netanyahu government was committed to pursuing a peace agreement, and blamed Ramallah for the deadlock.
“The Palestinians abandoned the negotiating table a year and a half ago, leaving the proposal of [American Secretary of State John] Kerry unanswered. In order for the peace process to happen, Israel’s message to Ramallah is that the Palestinians must come back to the negotiating table and not take unilateral measures,” she said, according to a statement from her office.
Hotovely also called on the EU to support Israel’s demand that Ramallah recognize Israel as a Jewish state, and to “condemn terrorism unequivocally.” She was speaking hours after an East Jerusalem man rammed his car into police in a suspected terror attack.
Mogherini took over as foreign policy chief for the 28-nation European Union in November and visited Israel and the Palestinian territories shortly afterwards, saying she wanted to make a priority of pushing forward the Middle East peace process.
AP contributed to this report.
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