Peace will come only when Israel’s “security” and “settlement” interests are ensured, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said on Tuesday, adding the term “settlement interests” for the first time into his usual formula about the country’s security needs.
Speaking in Tiberias at a conference on Galilee development, Netanyahu took the Palestinian Authority to task for the reception it gave the released security prisoners overnight.
“Peace will come only when our security interests and, yes, also our settlement interests, will be ensured,” he said.
Placing “settlement” together with “security” is a nuance that could have significance as US Secretary of State John Kerry arrives on Thursday to push forward talks with the Palestinians.
The prime minister’s remarks comes two days after the Ministerial Committee on Legislation voted to give government support to a bill that would annex the Jordan Valley, and as voices are increasingly being raised in the Likud saying it is not enough for Israel to maintain an IDF presence in the valley, but that the settlements there must remain as well.
Speaking on Tuesday night at an event marking the 49th anniversary of Fatah, PA President Mahmoud Abbas said Israel needed to stop the “cancer” of settlement construction. The Palestinians, he said, “will not hesitate to reject any policy proposal that would detract from the Palestinian national interest, regardless of international pressure.”
Abbas added that the leadership would use its rights as a state observer at the UN to stop settlement construction.
Two weeks ago, Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon indicated a belief that settlements in the Jordan Valley needed to remain in place.
“I’m a man [who believes in] settlements,” he said. “Where Jews don’t live there is no security.”
One of the main bones of contention in the current negotiations with the Palestinians is whether Israel will retain an IDF presence in the Jordan Valley, something Israel demands but the Palestinians reject. Security proposals Kerry put forward during his visit here some two weeks ago were believed to call for an IDF presence there for a 10-year period, but for local settlements to be uprooted.
“We want peace, to get to peace, a real peace, peace with security,” Netanyahu said in Tiberias. “I hope this is possible, but peace is not dependent only on us. It is also dependent on our neighbors.”
Netanyahu said the “essence of the difference” between Israel and the Palestinians could be seen in the release of the convicted terrorists overnight between Monday and Tuesday.
“While we are willing to take incomparably difficult steps in order to try and obtain an end to the conflict, I see our neighbors, with their most senior leadership, celebrating. Murderers are not heroes,” he said. “This is not the way to educate for peace; this is not the way peace is made. Peace can exist only when the education toward incitement stops, only when the education toward the disappearance of Israel and the glorification of terrorism stops.”
Kerry is expected to arrive in Israel on Thursday and meet in Jerusalem that afternoon with Netanyahu, followed by a meeting in Ramallah with Abbas. It is not clear how long he will remain in the region, though State Department deputy spokeswoman Marie Harf said the consultations “will be going on for a few days.”
Harf, referring during a press conference on Monday to reports that Kerry would push forward a “framework agreement,” said the US was working on a “framework for negotiations” that “would serve as guidelines for the permanent- status negotiation and would address all the core issues.”
“I don’t know if I would use the word agreement,” she said. “I would use the term ‘proposed framework’ because it’s only a proposed framework at this point [and] would serve as guidelines for the permanent-status negotiations. This framework would address all the core issues.”
The guidelines are widely expected to call for the establishment of a Palestinian state based on the pre-1967 lines, with mutually agreed land swaps, and for Palestinian recognition of Israel as the national home of the Jewish people.
If the contentious issues of Jerusalem and refugees are included in the document, it is expected to spell out that refugees should be absorbed into the new Palestinian state, and that the capital of the Palestinian state will be in the Jerusalem area.
Harf stressed this was not an “interim agreement.”
“We’re hoping to make progress in narrowing the gaps on this trip, but don’t want to predict whether we’ll reach agreement on this framework during these few days on the ground,” she said.
Netanyahu told Likud MKs on Monday that he had not yet seen the proposals.
Documents of this type are widely viewed in Jerusalem as a way to keep the negotiations going beyond the nine-month deadline for the talks, set for late April. Asked about the time frame, Harf said: “We know it’s a complicated process, but we’re still operating under that nine-month time frame.”
Jerusalem Post staff contributed to this report.