WASHINGTON – Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu met with US President Barack Obama in the Oval Office on Monday, pushing back against pressure from the White House to swiftly cut a deal with the Palestinians as the president warned time was running out for peace.
“Israel has been doing its part, and I regret to say that the Palestinians haven’t,” Netanyahu said to Obama, in front of the press. “The people of Israel know that it’s the case.”
“What we want is peace – not a piece of paper,” he said.
Netanyahu called for a “real peace... based on mutual recognition,” and chided his Palestinian counterparts for promoting “incessant violence” against the Jewish state.
“Israel, the Jewish state, is the realization of the Jewish people’s right to self-determination,” Netanyahu said. “I think it’s about time they recognized a nation state for the Jewish people.
We’ve only been here for about 4,000 years.”
Netanyahu is the first Israeli prime minister to formally call on the Palestinians to recognize Israel as the Jewish homeland – what he has called the “minimal requirement” for peace.
“The only peace that will endure is a peace that we can defend,” he added.
US Secretary of State John Kerry and Vice President Joe Biden stood in the room as the two leaders spoke. Netanyahu thanked Kerry for his efforts over the past several months, which he called “tireless.”
“When I say tireless,” he quipped, “I mean tireless.”
Negotiations have been led by Kerry, who planned a major address to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee for Tuesday night.
US officials said Kerry delayed a strategically pivotal trip to Kiev, Ukraine’s capital, to make sure he was in Washington for the speech. AIPAC officials expect him to make a forceful case for a two-state accord, and said he would “flesh out” comments he made recently on the fallout Israel would face should peace talks fail with the Palestinians.
A nine-month deadline on talks set by the US will expire next month, unless all parties agree to extend negotiations.
The prime minister held meetings on Capitol Hill after sitting with Obama, Biden and members of the president’s national security team at the White House.
Netanyahu, too, is scheduled to address AIPAC on Wednesday morning.
Obama praised Netanyahu for participating in “very lengthy, painstaking negotiations” over the course of eight months, and recognized that Israel would not accept a peace accord that failed to recognize its strategic security needs.
“It’s my belief that ultimately it is still possible to create two states, a Jewish state of Israel and a state of Palestine in which people are living side by side in peace and security. But it’s difficult and it requires compromise on all sides. And I just want to publicly again commend the prime minister for the seriousness with which he’s taken these discussions,” said Obama.
“The time frame that we have set up for completing these negotiations is coming near and some tough decisions are going to have to be made.
But I know that, regardless of the outcome, the prime minister will make those decisions based on his absolute commitment to Israel’s security and his recognition that ultimately Israel’s security will be enhanced by peace with his neighbors.”
Speaking about Iran, Netanyahu said it remained the greatest challenge to Israel, affirming that his government would not accept an Iranian “ability” to acquire nuclear weapons.
As its prime minister, he was prepared to protect Israel from existential threats by any means necessary, he asserted.
That line – between Iran’s obtaining nuclear weapons versus nuclear weapons capacity – remains a sticking point in efforts to synthesize the positions of the two allies, as negotiations begin between world powers and Iran on its nuclear program in Vienna.
The meeting came as the White House found itself consumed by a rare conflict outside the Middle East.
The leaders both expressed concern with developments in Ukraine – though Netanyahu was hesitant to remark publicly on the crisis.
Russian military officials pressured their Ukrainian counterparts in the occupied region of Crimea on Tuesday to stand down their forces, threatening a military storm and full Russian annexation of the territory.