Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in an interview Friday that "the idea of taking unilateral steps is gaining ground, from the center-left to the center-right." It was the second time in two weeks that Netanyahu had suggested political alternatives to negotiations with the Palestinians.
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In an interview with Jeffery Goldberg, published by Bloomberg, Netanyahu observed that "many Israelis are asking themselves if there are certain unilateral steps that could theoretically make sense." However, he also remarked that Israelis consider the unilateral withdrawal from Gaza a failure, as "it created Hamastan, from which thousands of rockets have been fired at our cities."
Earlier this week Haaretz reported that Netanyahu was examining the option of unilateral moves, after talks with the Palestinians collapsed last month. According to the report, Netanyahu plans to undertake a round of deliberations on the matter with members of his coalition.
In an interview with Mainichi Shimbun during his recent visit to Japan, Netanyahu said he was troubled by the stagnant peace process and its ramifications for Israel.
"I don't find the status quo desirable," he said, adding that in lieu of productive peace negotiations, he is currently "having meetings with my partners in the coalition and with others to figure what alternatives we have. I don't like the status quo and I don't want a binational state."
Netanyahu repeated the point in the Bloomberg interview, saying that he wouldn't accept a binational state, nor the founding of an Iranian-sponsored state. "There is an emerging consensus in Israel that we don’t have a partner who can challenge constituencies, do something unpopular, do something that is difficult," Netanyahu said.
"President Abbas has done nothing to challenge the prevailing Palestinian consensus. In fact, he’s doing the opposite: the Hamas reconciliation, internationalizing the conflict, not giving one iota on the right of return, not giving an iota on the Jewish state. He wouldn’t deal with Kerry’s framework."
Netanyahu told Goldberg that direct negotiations with the Palestinians was his preferred method of achieving peace, but pointed out that six Israeli prime ministers had attempted to reach an agreement via negotiations since Oslo and all had failed.
"They’ve always thought we were on the verge of success, and then [Yasser] Arafat backed off, Mahmoud Abbas backed off, because they can’t conclude these negotiations. We don’t have a Palestinian leadership that is willing to do that. The minimal set of conditions that any Israeli government would need (to reach peace – BR) cannot be met by the Palestinians."
The prime minister added that the Palestinians presented maximalist demands during the negotiations and refused to compromise.
"I said to them: 'You tell me that you want me to draw a map of a state, but you won’t tell me that the state on the map will recognize the Jewish state next to it. They want a map without an end of conflict.
"They expect us to just leave, shut our eyes, tear out the settlements. Well, we've been there, done that. We did it in Gaza. And what we got was not peace, but rocket fire."
Netanyahu stressed that he would not make a unilateral declaration of freezing settlement construction because he does not believe that it would promote peace talks in any way. Before the nine months of negotiations began, he added, Israel had informed the Palestinians and Americans of exactly how much it intended building, including in Jerusalem.
"We built exactly what we said we would build in every one of the [prisoner release] tranches. It wasn’t that we surprised anyone with extra construction," he said, adding that the settlements were important but they weren't the heart of the conflict with the Palestinians.
Netanyahu stressed in the interview that 80 to 90 percent of the settlers live in large settlement blocs, "in suburbs of Tel Aviv and Jerusalem that everyone knows will stay in a final peace settlement." Effectively, he said, the territory that is settled had increased only marginally in the past 20 years.
"No new settlements have been built since the time I was first prime minister, which was 1996," Netanyahu said. "What you are talking about is an increasing population within these urban blocs. It doesn’t materially affect the map.
"If you took an aerial photograph to see how much territory has been 'consumed' by so-called 'rampant' settlement activity, the answer is practically nothing. If you can make a deal, you can make a deal. The addition of a few hundred housing units a year in this territory doesn’t alter it."
The Blue White Future movement, which is dedicated to the two-state solution, called on Netanyahu to stand behind his words and adopt its plan for independent steps in order to ensure that Israel remains Jewish and democratic.
"It is the only realistic plan on Netanyahu's desk and now is the time to implement it carefully and responsibly, while leaving the door open for negotiations," said the movement's co-chairman Gilad Sher. "It needs to be done if only to come to partial accommodations with the Palestinians."