PM: Unilateralism will unravel talks
Unilateral Palestinian steps will bring a one-sided Israeli response, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said yesterday, as Palestinians tried to garner international support for the declaration of a state.
"Any unilateral path will only unravel the framework of agreements between us and will only bring unilateral steps from Israel's side," he said, speaking at the Saban Forum in Jerusalem yesterday.
There is no substitute for negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, Netanyahu said.
"What is needed to start moving forward is to begin negotiations immediately," Netanyahu said, and "to start off with a good spirit, one might say with a generous spirit. I am talking about our side, and that is what I also told [U.S. President Barack] Obama."
The comments came after chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said the Palestinian Authority was working to draw the widest possible international support for the idea of approaching the UN Security Council to declare a Palestinian state within the 1967 boundaries.
Netanyahu said he was not setting preconditions for Israeli-Palestinian talks.
"We have taken and are prepared to take steps that will assist in launching the diplomatic process," the prime minister said.
Netanyahu said that last week in Washington he had spoken of his desire to begin talks whose goal was peace with Israel's neighbors. "I want to reiterate that I am not interested in negotiating for the sake of negotiations," he said, adding that Israel was willing to take "real steps" in the context of negotiations.
Netanyahu also condemned the Goldstone report on Operation Cast Lead in Gaza, calling it "a clear threat to peace in our region." When Israel withdrew from Gaza, he said, "there were some who claimed rocket fire would cease with the withdrawal, and even if it didn't, they said, Israel would have international legitimacy to respond to the attacks."
Netanyahu said both arguments have been proven wrong.
"Thousands of rockets were fired and when Israel responded, not only did it not receive legitimacy, but it was accused of war crimes," he said.
Former U.S. president Bill Clinton, who also attended the Saban Forum yesterday, urged Israelis not to view U.S. President Barack Obama as hostile to Israel.
"You should not think that President Obama is your enemy," he said.
In an interview with Israeli journalist Nahum Barnea, Clinton rejected claims that the Obama administration was hostile to Israel, and said Obama had supported Israel on the Goldstone report. He said the attitude toward Israel and to the Palestinians would improve with advancement of the peace process.
"No American president can serve in good conscience and not be committed to the security of Israel," Clinton said.
Clinton said that the fact that Obama had asked Hillary Clinton to be his secretary of state was a sign that he was interested in a real agreement in the region. He said Obama had picked her not only because of the Clintons' experience in the international arena, but because of her considerable work with Jewish organizations in New York. He said Obama's acceptance of Hillary Clinton's recommendation that George Mitchell be appointed special envoy to the Middle East peace process also showed his commitment to the process.
With regard to the conflict with Netanyahu over the refusal to halt settlement construction, Bill Clinton said he thought the administration has taken the right position and gone back to the period of the Madrid peace talks, when it accepted the United Nations position that settlements were not helpful to the peace process.