Netanyahu: Issues of Jerusalem and Temple Mount Are Unsolvable

At Center for American Progress, prime minister does not rule out 'unilateralism' on Israel's part, but says Israel will need 'broad international' support.

 Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu participates in a forum hosted by the Center for American Progress in Washington November 10, 2015.
Reuters

WASHINGTON D.C. - Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Tuesday that he believes the issues of Jerusalem and the Temple Mount to be unsolvable, and did not rule out unilateral steps on Israel's part in the West Bank.

Speaking at the Center for American Progress a day after meeting with U.S. President Barak Obama, Netanyahu said "unilateralism is possible" but it will have to address Israel's security concerns and be supported by a "broader international understanding."

During his speech, Netanyahu admitted that his election day comments - that Israeli Arabs were running to the ballots in "droves" - were a mistake. "My statements were wrong. Arabs voted for me more than for the Labor Party, but I shouldn't have said those statements," Netanyahu said.

"I am the prime minister of all citizens of Israel. Those who voted for me and those who did not vote for me What matters is not words but deeds. Check what I did for Arab citizens of Israel," the prime minister said.

The Center for American Progress is a liberal think-tank considered close to the White House and the Democratic party, and Netanyahu spoke at the event as part an attempt to reach out and renew dialogue with the party and the American left in wake of the political fallout of his campaign against the nuclear deal with Iran. In recent days, there has been fierce debate within the think-tank regarding Netanyahu's speech, which some said would grant him new legitimacy. During the event, Netanyahu faced many questions regarding hot-button issues for which he has faced criticism, like Israeli Arabs, settlements and Israel's ongoing control over the West Bank.

 Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu participates in a forum hosted by the Center for American Progress in Washington November 10, 2015.
Reuters

"I know my visit here was a source of controversy and I appreciate you inviting me. I came here because it is important that Israel stays a bipartisan issue in the U.S.," he said.

"Obama and I had a disagreement about the Iran deal, but we have no disagreement about what we should do now against Iran," Netanyahu said, adding his meeting with the president was "very good."

Regarding the peace process, Netanyahu rejected claims he was at fault for the stalemate, placing the onus on Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas: "Why don't we have peace with the Palestinians? Is it me? Why didn't previous prime ministers get peace with the Palestinians?

"I am willing to enter talks with Abbas at any minute and without any preconditions. He refuses," Netanyahu claimed, defending his government's record on settlements and adding that settlement construction was not the stumbling block to peace.

"The settlement freeze didn't help. Abbas didn't come to the table," he said, claiming "there have been no new settlements build in the last 20 years.

"My government has built 1,500 housing units a year in settlements [these are] additions to existing communities. The map hasn't changed," he said, adding that "the settlement issue can be resolved in negotiations."

He also blasted the idea of Palestinian state that would be free of Jews, saying "a Palestinian state must be clean of Jews - what is that? Can Progressives accept that?

"People live in the settlements. They are human beings," Netanyahu said.

Earlier, Netanyahu addressed the Jewish Federations General Assembly, telling the plenum that the government and the Jewish Agency will for the first time invest in the development of Reform and Conservative Jewish congregations in Israel.

In his meeting with Obama on Monday, according to the sources who wished to remain anonymous due to the sensitivity of the issue, Netanyahu said he is doubtful Syria could be reunited into one, functioning state. He added that one of the consequences of the current situation is that it "allows for different thinking" about the future status of the Golan Heights.