Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Monday that Israel and the Palestinians were not near a permanent agreement and that he could not appraise future developments. Netanyahu told lawmakers at a Likud faction meeting that U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry would return to the region over the weekend or next week.
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Netanyahu also criticized Finance Minister Yair Lapid's call to coordinate the structure of the coalition with advancing the peace process, saying: "It's not the coalition that will dictate progress in the agreement with the Palestinians, but our life experience."
Israel has clear conditions for reaching an agreement with the Palestinians, he added. "Our demands are rarely heard," Netanyahu said. "But only if they are fulfilled, will we be able to advance toward an agreement. The state is under attack and we must protect it."
Netanyahu also said that any deal reached with the Palestinians would be brought to Israel's citizens for a referendum. "I pledged to do so," Netanyahu said. "It's the right thing to do, in a fundamental and national sense, and that's what will happen if an agreement is reached. It is not the coalition that will decide one way or another, expect whether an agreement is reached. The fundamentals of the deal will be reached once it is brought to the public, not the coalition."
Netanyahu's remarks come just three days after Kerry, on a visit to the region, said Israel and the Palestinians are closer to peace than they have been in years.
"I believe we are closer than we have been in years to bringing about the peace and the prosperity and the security that all of the people of this region deserve," he told reporters at Ben-Gurion International Airport prior to his departure from Israel.
Kerry arrived in Israel on Wednesday night and spent two days in intensive meetings with Israeli and Palestinian leaders discussing security arrangements for a future peace treaty.
Kerry met twice on Thursday with Netanyahu and once again on Friday morning, for a total of 12 hours, and held a meeting with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on Thursday that lasted more than four hours.
In the press briefing Friday, Kerry stressed that the negotiations were progressing, but that Netanyahu could not move forward on other core issues before resolving security concerns.
The secretary of state added that the United States would not support an agreement that fails to increase Israel's security on the one hand and won't grant the Palestinians the independent state they deserve on the other. "If Israel's security can't increase as a result of an agreement, it's very difficult to make an agreement. Obviously, security is paramount in the minds of the prime minister and his team with respect to their ability to move forward on other issues."