Israel has an “arsenal of possible responses” it can deploy in response to a unilateral Palestinian declaration of statehood, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu told the Knesset’s Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee on Monday.
Netanyahu, who did not spell out what steps Israel would take, said he preferred “not going” down that unilateral path “because it is a negative direction.”
The prime minister said he had spoken recently with Chilean President Sebastián Piñera in an effort to prevent Santiago from recognizing a Palestinian state – something a number of Latin American countries, such as Brazil, Argentina and Ecuador, have done in recent weeks. Uruguay announced that it would recognize Palestinian statehood in 2011.
According to the prime minister, such recognition distances negotiations and makes peace more unlikely, because it strengthens the Palestinians’ sense that they can get what they want without negotiations.
Netanyahu bewailed what he said had become the Palestinian “three no’s”: No to recognition of Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people, no to dropping their demand for a Palestinian refugee “right of return,” and no to agreed-upon security arrangements on the ground. The prime minister was making a reference to the Arab League’s Khartoum Resolution of September 1, 1967, and its “Three No’s”: “no peace with Israel, no recognition of Israel, no negotiations with it.” Netanyahu, who informed the MKs that White House senior adviser Dennis Ross was due back later this week, said the Palestinians had shown no willingness to compromise on either substantive or procedural issues. They have shown “no movement,” he said.
He reiterated what he said last week during a Channel 10 interview, that coalition considerations would not prevent him from pursing a peace agreement if he thought one was possible.
“No coalition agreement will prevent reaching an agreement with the Palestinians,” promised Netanyahu. “On the first day of this government, I asked [Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud] Abbas to hold direct negotiations and received no response.”
He added that “Israel is continuing to advance the peace process, but the Palestinians have not moved one millimeter.
“We crossed our Rubicon; the question is, will the Palestinians?” he went on. “Are they ready to stand before their public and advance peace? They went into talks around the end of the building moratorium, but the only topic that they discussed was the continuation of the freeze.”
Following the end of the building freeze in September, the Americans suggested an additional three-month freeze, , Netanyahu said.
“We had talks with the Americans about what we wanted in return. The truth is that we were ready to do it again, contrary to reports that Israel refused to extend it. Ultimately it was the Americans who backed down from the talks – and rightly so, I think, because in the past all the conversations with the Palestinians were about continuing the freeze and not about the key subjects,” he said.
Answering a question from MK Tzipi Hotovely (Likud) regarding progress on the planned Palestinian city of Rawabi, outside of Ramallah, the prime minister said, “I think that it is a positive step. The Palestinians are building constantly, but this time it is a visible project that all the world can observe. It is a city that will be part of the future Palestinian state, and we are looking into easing restrictions on transit surrounding the city.”
Asked about the Syrian track, Netanyahu said Israel was open to talks with Damascus as long as there were no “preconditions.” The problem with the Syrians, he said, was that they demanded Israel give up everything before they would even enter talks.
“We are ready and willing to hold negotiations with Syria,” the prime minister declared during the meeting. “The problem is that Syria wants us to give the whole territory [the Golan Heights] as a precondition for talks.”
Netanyahu said there was no lack of countries that had volunteered their services as intermediaries with the Syrians, including the Americans, Germans, French and Bulgarians.
The prime minister made clear in the meeting that Israel had no intention of apologizing to Turkey for the Mavi Marmara incident, although it was willing to express regret over the loss of life. He emphasized that he “saw an opportunity with Turkey during the [Carmel] fire,” and that contacts were continuing with Ankara.
“We are not interested in a continuation of the deterioration of the relationship,” he said – adding, however, that Israel would not accept a formula for putting the ties back on track that would imply that IDF soldiers were guilty of wrongdoing.
Opposition leader Tzipi Livni attacked Netanyahu after he said that since 1995, he had supported a two-state solution. The prime minister said that he had spoken during a Likud central committee meeting in support of establishing a “state-minus” in a demilitarized area of the West Bank.
“It is amazing how you describe an alternate reality, and claim that it is the truth,” charged the Kadima chairwoman. “It is strange that you fall back upon 1995 when in 2002, you announced in the Likud central committee, ‘Yes to a Jewish state means no to a Palestinian state, and we must say no.’”
Livni went on to accuse Netanyahu of causing damage to the nation’s security interests.