Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told his Likud Knesset faction on Monday that he opposes evacuating settlements like Hebron and Beit El, which are outside the major settlement blocs but are “important to the Jewish people,” MKs present at the meeting said.
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He also said he has “no solution” for how to prevent Israel from becoming a binational state while also ensuring that a Palestinian state won’t become a base for Iran or Al-Qaida.
According to three MKs who attended Monday’s faction meeting at the Knesset, Netanyahu raised the Israeli-Palestinian issue at his own initiative. He began by teasing MK Tzipi Hotovely – who routinely asks him at every such meeting about the negotiations now being conducted under the auspices of U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry – for not having raised the issue yet. He then launched into a survey of Kerry’s effort to broker a framework agreement for Israeli-Palestinian peace.
During this survey, he sent conflicting messages that made it clear how much pressure he is under and how much he is agonizing over what response to give the Americans.
“Kerry is trying to formulate an American paper that will reflects the American position,” Netanyahu said, as quoted by two MKs present at the meeting. “Both sides will be able to comment on it, but not necessarily by consenting. Yet even this paper is hard to achieve right now.”
Netanyahu stressed that he has not discussed evacuating settlements during the talks. Asked “So what’s left to talk about?” by MK Moshe Feiglin, Netanyahu replied, “There’s a lot of territory that isn’t settled.”
“We won’t concede the places others conceded in the past,” the prime minister added, citing Hebron and Beit El as examples of places that are outside the settlement blocs but are nevertheless important to the Jewish people.
Netanyahu stressed at some length that the main problem in the Middle East isn’t the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but Iran and the Muslim Brotherhood. Leaders of several Arab states agree with him on this point, he added.
After temporarily turning the floor over to Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon, who gave a monologue of his own making the same point, Netanyahu took the floor again to say that the conflict is about the Palestinians’ unwillingness to recognize Israel as a Jewish state. But even if the Palestinians were to accede to this demand, he added, the conflict wouldn’t end.
“Even if there is some minimal commitment to recognize the Jewish state, there’s still no guarantee that the incitement against us would change,” Netanyahu said. “We saw what happened when we closed our eyes and evacuated settlements. We need a foothold in the territory, plus security arrangements that will ensure that the territory won’t be handed over to hostile elements.”
At this point, Netanyahu suddenly switched to presenting the other side of the coin.
“The reason why we’re willing to reach this agreement isn’t because we’re denying our history, but because there are two million Palestinians and the question is what we do with them,” he said. “There’s a problem that the Palestinians are there, and I have no intention of removing them. It’s impractical and inappropriate. I don’t want a binational state, and I don’t want them as either citizens or subjects. On the other hand, I don’t want another Iranian state or Al-Qaida state. Currently, we have no solution.”
During the meeting, Netanyahu was asked about the possibility that an agreement with the Palestinians could include an exchange of populations and territory – something Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman has advocated repeatedly, most recently just this week. “That’s the foreign minister’s position, but not the American position,” Netanyahu replied.