(CNSNews.com) – Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu can wait a thousand years without finding a single Palestinian prepared to accept his offer, a senior Palestinian negotiator said late Sunday after Netanyahu in a policy speech laid down conditions under which Israel would accept a Palestinian state.
The two key conditions, the conservative prime minister said, were Palestinian recognition of Israel as the national homeland for the Jewish people; and a requirement that a future Palestinian state would be demilitarized.
Acceptance of a Palestinian state is a departure for Netanyahu. Speaking at Bar Ilan University outside Tel Aviv, he made it clear that it came with red lines.
On the first, Netanyahu said, refusal to recognize the Jewish people’s right to a state in their historical homeland was “the root of the conflict.” The “public, binding and sincere” acknowledgment by the Palestinians of that right was therefore a “fundamental condition for ending the conflict.”
On the second condition, Netanyahu said there was broad agreement in Israel that a future Palestinian state could not be militarized.
“Without this condition, there is a real fear that there will be an armed Palestinian state which will become a terrorist base against Israel, as happened in Gaza,” he said.
Such a state – “another Hamastan” – could makes military treaties with Iran or Hezbollah and import weapons and missiles.
A Palestinian state could have no army, and no control over its airspace, and effective measures would have to be put in place to prevent arms from entering, Netanyahu said.
On two other key final status questions, he said Jerusalem would remain Israel’s unified capital, and Palestinian refugees could not be settled within Israel’s future borders. Netanyahu recalled that as the young and “tiny” state of Israel had absorbed “hundreds of thousands of Jewish refugees from Arab countries who were uprooted from their homes.” The problem of Arab refugees could similarly be solved, he said, implying that the refugees could be accommodated in the Palestinian state and/or neighboring Arab countries.
The Palestinian Authority wants at least the eastern portion of Jerusalem as the capital of a future state; the “right of return” of Arabs who left what is now Israel in 1948, and their descendants, is another key P.A. demand.
On the issue of Israelis living in disputed areas, Netanyahu pledged that no new settlements would be built. But he pointedly did not agree that construction would stop within existing ones – a matter of disagreement with the Obama administration.
“There is a need to have people live normal lives and let mothers and fathers raise their children like everyone in the world,” he said. “The settlers are not enemies of peace. They are our brothers and sisters.”
More than 280,000 Israelis live in settlements in Judea-Samaria (the West Bank). President Bush in a letter to the Israeli government in 2004 acknowledged that the final status borders of Israel would have to take into account “new realities on the ground, including already existing major Israeli population centers.” The Obama administration has sidestepped the question of whether it considers that and other assurances in the Bush letter to be binding.
‘This is the birthplace of the Jewish people’
Sunday’s speech was viewed in Israel as a response to some of the points made in President Obama’s address to the “Muslim world,” delivered in Cairo early this month. Obama pressed the Israelis to accept a “two state solution” to the conflict and said it was time for Jewish settlements to “stop.”
P.A. President Mahmoud Abbas’ spokesman Nabil Abu Rdainah said Netanyahu’s speech “torpedoes” peace initiatives, while P.A. negotiator Saeb Erekat called it “deceiving,” adding that the prime minister “can wait one thousand years to find one single Palestinian who accepts his plans mentioned in his speech.”
In remarks directed to Obama, Erekat said Netanyahu’s speech was a slap in the president’s face.
“Netanyahu is challenging you and insists not stopping settlements or ending the military occupation,” he said. “President Obama, the ball is in your court tonight.”
The settlement issue is not the only one covered in Netanyahu’s speech that constituted a reproach to the administration.
Although the White House in a statement praised “the important step forward” in the speech – presumably Netanyahu’s conditional endorsement of a future Palestinian state – a close reading of the speech finds a number of gentle ripostes.
In Cairo on June 4, Obama suggested that Jewish aspirations that led to the establishment of Israel in 1948 were “rooted” in a “tragic history” of anti-Semitic persecution that culminated in the Holocaust.
While agreeing that the Holocaust showed why Jews needed a “protective state,” Netanyahu highlighted the 3,000 year-old Jewish connection to the land of Israel.
“The right of the Jewish people to a state in the Land of Israel does not arise from the series of disasters that befell the Jewish people over 2,000 years – persecutions, expulsions, pogroms, blood libels, murders, which reached its climax in the Holocaust,” he said. “The right to establish our sovereign state here, in the Land of Israel, arises from one simple fact: Eretz Israel is the birthplace of the Jewish people.”
Israel’s critics frequently argue that Europe assuaged its “guilt” over the Nazi genocide by giving the survivors a homeland, at the expense of the Arab inhabitants, and that that alone – rather than any historic or legal claim – was the reason for the creation of Israel. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, despite disputing the Holocaust, has suggested that the Israelis be moved to Europe to make up for “injustice” Jews experienced there.
Obama also did not mention the fact that the establishment of Israel arose out of a 1947 decision by the United Nations to divide the land between Jews and Arabs. The Jews assented, declaring a state; the Arabs refused the deal, and went to war.
Netanyahu filled in the gap.
“The entire Arab world rejected the [U.N.] proposal, while the Jewish community accepted it with great rejoicing and dancing,” he recounted. “The Arabs refused any Jewish state whatsoever, with any borders whatsoever.”
In Cairo, Obama echoed the widely-held view that the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza in 1967 was the reason for Arab and Muslim enmity towards Israel.
Netanyahu countered: “Whoever thinks that the continued hostility to Israel is a result of our forces in Judea, Samaria and Gaza is confusing cause and effect,” he said. “The attacks on us began in the 1920s, became an overall attack in 1948 when the state was declared, continued in the 1950s with the fedayeen attacks, and reached their climax in 1967 on the eve of the Six-Day War, with the attempt to strangle Israel.
“All this happened nearly 50 years before a single Israeli soldier went into Judea and Samaria” in 1967, he said.
Elsewhere in the speech, Netanyahu praised Egypt and Jordan for signing peace agreements with Israel and invited Israel’s remaining neighbors to join the “circle of peace,” saying he was ready to travel to Syria, Lebanon and Saudi Arabia to talk about and make peace.
He also challenged the Arabs to join Israel in promoting “economic peace” – not as a substitute for peace, but as “a very important component in achieving it: “Together we can advance projects that can overcome the problems facing our region.”