Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu promised not to evacuate West Bank settlements, even as he acknowledged that some of them would not be within Israel’s permanent borders if a final-status agreement was reached with the Palestinians.
“There won’t be an evacuation, I don’t intend to do this. I’ve said this,” Netanyahu told Channel 2.
It was one of three interviews he gave to the Israeli media, including to Channels 1 and 10, that were aired on Saturday night after he returned from a five-day trip to the United States last week. It was the first time in over a year that he sat down with the Israeli media.
“I won’t abandon anyone,” Netanyahu told Channel 2, speaking against the evacuation of settlements. But he added: “It’s clear that some of the settlements won’t be part of this agreement. Everyone understands this.”
Netanyahu explained that he would try and ensure that the smallest possible number of Jewish communities would be excluded from a final-status agreement.
His statements were similar to the stance he took in Davos, Switzerland, last month, when he said he would not evacuate settlements even though every scenario for a final-status agreement called for Israeli withdrawal from large portions of the West Bank.
At the time, officials from his office explained that he was alluding to the possibility that some settlements could be within the borders of a Palestinian state.
Netanyahu did not speak clearly of that possibility in some of his latest interviews.
But he did appear to allude to it again when he told Channel 2 that he would not evacuate settlements and that not all of them would be within Israel’s final borders. He appeared to suggest that a security arrangement for those settlements outside of Israel’s final borders was possible.
“I won’t leave any Israeli without Israeli defense, without the full security that we provide to every Israeli,” he stated.
The prime minister told Channel 10 that Jerusalem would remain united under Israeli sovereignty, thereby dismissing a key Palestinian demand that east Jerusalem be its capital in a two-state solution.
He told Channel 2 that talk of a deal was premature, given that the Palestinians did not seem ready to make any concessions toward a final-status agreement.
“First let’s see if they are even willing to negotiate. From what I see, they are very far from this. They think they can continue with their acts of refusal – to go with demands to the United Nations and to distance themselves from the question of what their concessions are, how will they recognize a Jewish state,” he said.
In order to reach an agreement, the Palestinians would have to agree to recognize Israel as a Jewish state, he added.
The Prime Minister's Office clarified regarding what he said about the settlements that there was nothing new in his comments, and that they were said several times before, including during his speech to Congress in 2011. The PMO also clarified that Netanyahu has emphasized time after time Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas' recalcitrance, and said "the time has come for the world to recognize that he is the obstacle to peace," not settlements.
Netanyahu spoke as the US prepared to unveil a framework document, possibly by the end of April, that would set out principles for negotiations toward a final-status agreement with the Palestinians. US President Barack Obama spoke with Netanyahu about the document when the two met in the White House last week. Obama is expected to discuss it with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas when Abbas visits Washington later this month.
On Friday, US Secretary of State John Kerry met Jordan’s King Abdullah for talks about the framework document. He spoke with the monarch for two hours during an unscheduled visit to Jordan’s Red Sea resort of Aqaba after leaving Rome, where he attended a conference on Libya and held meetings on the crisis in Ukraine.
Kerry was accompanied on the flight from Italy by Jordanian Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh, State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf told reporters. There was no immediate comment from Jordanian officials about the meeting.
Netanyahu told Channel 2 that he wanted peace, although it was not clear to him that the Palestinians did, given that they had not adjusted their positions as part of talks.
“The question of whether there will be an agreement must first and foremost be posed to the Palestinians,” he said.
Moving to the issue of Jonathan Pollard, who is serving a life sentence in a US jail for passing classified information to Israel in the 1980s, Netanyahu said the Israeli agent had already served his time and should be freed.
“The state of Israel erred in sending him,” Netanyahu told Channel 10. He explained that he brings up the issue of Pollard in every discussion he has with the White House, including at last week’s meeting.
“I hope we will succeed in the end in bringing him home,” he said.
Reuters contributed to this report.