Israel needs to reach peace with the Palestinians to avoid becoming a binational state, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said on Wednesday.
He stressed, however, that the core of Israel’s conflict with the Palestinians was not territory, but rather a Palestinian unwillingness to recognize Israel’s legitimacy within any boundaries.
Netanyahu’s comments at a meeting with top Foreign Ministry officials came amid signs of revived motion on the Palestinian track. He made similar comments during a meeting later in the day with five US congressmen, giving the impression that he was staking out a pre-negotiation position.
“We’re engaged right now in an effort that we appreciate, led by [US] President [Barack] Obama and Secretary [of State John] Kerry to restart the peace negotiations between us and the Palestinians,” Netanyahu told the delegation headed by Rep. Ed Royce (R-California).
“We’re eager to do it; we have no preconditions and we think there shouldn’t be any preconditions to restart negotiations,” he said.
He added, however, that for the negotiations to succeed, they have to rest on two basic pillars: “One is that the Palestinians recognize the Jewish state, and second that Israel has solid security arrangements.”
At the Foreign Ministry, meanwhile, Netanyahu said the root of the conflict was not territorial.
“It started long before 1967.
You saw what happened when we left Gaza. We uprooted the last settler, and what did we get in return? Missiles,” he said.
“The unwillingness of the Palestinians to recognize Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people is the root of the conflict,” he said. “If we reach an agreement, I want to know that the conflict does not continue, and that there are no other Palestinian claims afterward.”
Explaining the context of Netanyahu’s remarks, one government official said that there was “currently a great deal of effort to get the process back on track, and we might be getting close to talks.”
As a result, he said, these issues are “more relevant again.”
Netanyahu’s comments came two days after an Arab League delegation in Washington, following meetings with Vice President Joe Biden and Kerry, indicated it would accept in the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative a slight modification to the pre- 1967 lines as part of an Israel- Palestinian peace accord.
Kerry on Tuesday afternoon in Washington heaped praise on the Arab League delegation for what he said was essentially the relaunching of their initiative. He said that initiative will ensure that if Israel and the Palestinians reach an agreement, the 22- member Arab League, as well as the 57 members of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, would consider the conflict over, normalize relations with Israel, sign peace agreements with Israel and provide security for all regional states.
“I don’t underestimate the significance of Saudi Arabia, Qatar, [United] Arab Emirates, the Egyptians, the Jordanians, and others coming to the table and saying, “We are prepared to make peace now in 2013,” he said.
Netanyahu, meanwhile, urged the Foreign Ministry staff to stress over and over in their messaging that the root of the conflict was not Yitzhar in Samaria but rather Acre, Jaffa and Ashkelon.
“You need to say that,” he said. “There is no need to apologize, you need to tell the truth.”
He did not directly address the Arab League move.
“The root of the conflict is not territorial,” he said at the meeting, his first with the Foreign Ministry since the elections and his taking over as foreign minister until the fate of Avigdor Liberman is determined in court.
In addition to discussing the diplomatic situation, he also heard complaints about budgetary constraints facing the ministry and the fact that some of its traditional duties had been parceled off to other ministries.
One participant at the meeting said that when asked about the ministry’s budgetary problems, Netanyahu replied simply, “Lousy strategy and big money get no results. Good strategy, little money, get good results.” He made no promises of a bigger budget.