By Deng Yushan, Zvi Amitai
JERUSALEM, Sept. 17 (Xinhua) - Israel is willing to
live with a Palestinian state at its side, but the neighbor must recognize
Israel as a Jewish national state and pose no danger to his country, said
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in an interview published Thursday.
In his first formal interview given to local media
since returning to premiership five months ago, Netanyahu also ruled out the
possibility to accept the much-publicized U.S. demand for a total freeze of
settlement construction in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, and poured cold
water on a much-anticipated tripartite meeting between him, Palestinian leader
Mahmoud Abbas and U.S. President Barack Obama.
Meanwhile, Netanyahu said that he believes in
regional peace and cherishes a dream that his country will prosper in peaceful
coexistence with her neighbors.
YES TO UNTHREATENING
In line with his major diplomatic policy speech in
July, when he performed an about-face by endorsing the two-state principle,
Netanyahu reiterated in the latest interview the need for a path to
While noting an "incontrovertible" connection of the
Jewish people to local land, he said, "but alongside that, there are also a
million and a half Palestinians who live here, and a solution must be found for
"I always said that our desire is to prevent the
establishment of a Palestinian state that will endanger our existence. In the
final arrangement, the Palestinians will have the opportunity to rule over
themselves," he added.
In an apparently leftward move, the leading
ring-winger recognized the need to cede some land currently under Israel's
control in order to establish a Palestinian state. However, he rejected
proposals to retreat to the pre-1967 borderline or use the separation fence as
the borderline, both of which would leave some existing settlements to the
"The land is already divided. The question is how we
also divide it in territorial terms," said Netanyahu, who promised during his
election campaign not to evacuate settlements authorized by the Israeli
government, but now appeared to dodge questions in this concern.
Meanwhile, the Israeli leader, who in his July
address sketched out a demilitarized Palestinian state, reemphasized that the
establishment of a Palestinian state must not jeopardize Israel's security, and
that the new state must recognize the Jewish nature of Israel.
"This will be a test for the Palestinians that the
responsibility lies with them. There is no reason for Israel to recognize a
Palestinian national state without their recognizing Israel as a Jewish national
state. There is no reason for the Palestinians not to announce that the signing
of the peace agreement also constitutes a commitment to the end of the
conflict," said Netanyahu.
¡¡¡¡NO TO TOTAL SETTLEMENT FREEZE
The interview, published on the eve of the Jewish New
Year's Day, came against the backdrop of frenzied U.S. efforts to wrangle a
total freeze of settlement activities out of Israel as a precursor to a possible
resumption of Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.
Yet following two meetings with Obama's special envoy
George Mitchell on Tuesday and Wednesday and ahead of another one on Friday, the
Israeli leader gave no sign of backing down, sticking to a partial moratorium
from a limited period.
Construction will continue in settlements for about
2,500 housing units already under construction and some 450 homes just approved
last week, and "public buildings will continue to be built as usual," said
Any moratorium deal would also very likely exclude
East Jerusalem, which Israel says is an inseparable part of its capital and
which Netanyahu recently stressed "is not a settlement." Yet the Palestinians
want this section of the holy city, captured by Israel in the 1967 war, to be
the capital of their future state.
A failure to reach a settlement deal with the United
States, Israel's top ally, would apparently hinder Obama's bid to hold a
three-way summit with Netanyahu and Abbas on the sidelines of the UN General
Assembly in New York next week, when they are widely expected to officially kick
start the peace process that has bogged down for a year.
"It is not important if a meeting will be held or
not. I did not request a meeting. The most important thing, in my mind, is the
actual content of the process that we are interested in starting," said
Netanyahu. "We need a peace arrangement that is based upon a declaration of the
end of the conflict and that will not endanger our security."
Meanwhile, Netanyahu fired back at accusations that
his country is impeding peace efforts on the settlement issue, claiming that the
lack of progress is "because of the (Palestinians') unwillingness to recognize
the state of Israel."
As to the Israeli-U.S. ties, which have been
noticeably strained over the settlement issue, the Israeli premier highlighted
the historical and strategic alliance between the two countries, saying that "we
are allies, and Obama expressly stated to me in the course of my meeting with
him that he is committed, as were his predecessors, to Israel's security. But
nevertheless, even allies sometimes have differences of opinion."
"There are two new leaders, Obama and myself, and
naturally it takes time to learn before we can arrive at agreements," he
¡¡¡¡A DREAM TO STRIVE FOR
Turning to Iran, Netanyahu called upon the
international community to impose harsher sanctions upon the Islamic republic,
Israel's major perceived security threat.
Israel and the United States have been accusing Iran
of secretly developing nuclear weapons under the guise of civilian programs.
While Washington and Europe have carried out an engagement approach, Israel has
stressed that it does not rule out the possibility to strike Iran's nuclear
"The dialogue that the United States wants to hold
with Iran is one thing, while the actions that need to be done are a different
thing entirely. We must act on both simultaneously," he said. "We are making the
United States aware of our standpoint through a number of diplomatic channels
and through a number of means."
In a related development, Netanyahu allegedly paid a
secret visit to Moscow two weeks ago for talks on the Iranian nuclear issue and
other security subjects. During the interview, he refused to confirm the rumored
trip, but noted Russia's influence on the region and said his government is
"using all of the ways possible in order to express our standpoint to them."
In face of such a conflicts-prone region, many
Israelis feel drained of hope for peace. Commenting on Foreign Minister Avigdor
Lieberman's recent remarks that he did not believe any peace agreement would be
reached with the Palestinians in the next 16 years, Netanyahu said that peace
would come faster through a right way.
"The correct approach is to present the conditions
which are necessary for us in order for a real peace to exist. If the
Palestinians will respond to that, it will be possible to shorten the time frame
in which peace will be achieved," he said.
"I believe in regional peace, coming to peace with
the Arab states while they recognize the right of Israel to exist and are ready
for normalization with Israel," added the Israeli leader. "My dream is that
Israel will become an economic and technological superpower that lives in peace
with her neighbors."
"In order to achieve this, we must work along two
channels: Arab recognition of the State of Israel as the national state of the
Jewish people, and maintenance of the security arrangements while establishing
the Palestinian state," he said.