Israeli PM extends olive branch with tough hands 2009-09-17 13:08:05   Print

    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.     


    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 Israeli-Palestinian coexistence.

    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 coexistence."

    "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 Palestinian side.

    "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.     


    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 Netanyahu.

    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 added.    


    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 facilities.

    "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.

Special Report: Palestine-Israel Conflicts         

Editor: Li Xianzhi
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