Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has promised not to evacuate West Bank settlements. He made the comments Friday in Davos, Switzerland, amid three separate meetings he held there with US Secretary of State John Kerry on the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.
“I have no intention of evacuating any settlement or uprooting any Israelis,” Netanyahu said in Hebrew during a briefing for Israeli journalists on the nine-month negotiating cycle, which ends in April.
His statement, which runs counter to the assumption that a final-status agreement would involve the evacuation of settlements, was not republished by the Prime Minister’s Office.
An Israeli official cautioned on Saturday night not to equate territorial concessions Israel might make to the Palestinians with statements about settlement evacuations.
Netanyahu is “against uprooting settlements, but irrespective of where the final borders are going to be.
He thinks Jews should be allowed to live in a future Palestinian state,” the official said.
Palestinians have consistently rejected the idea of settlers remaining in their state and have insisted that Israel must evacuate all settlements and withdraw to the pre-1967 lines.
Justice Minister and peace negotiator Tzipi Livni, who was in Davos after meeting with Kerry in Washington last week, modified Netanyahu’s statement in an interview with Channel 2 on Saturday night.
“No one wants to evacuate settlements,” Livni said.
“Most of the settlements are in blocs and the people there will stay in their homes. About the rest [of the settlements], their fate will be determined in the negotiations.”
It would not be possible, she added, to both maintain the isolated settlements and make peace.
She also said the refusal of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to recognize Israel as Jewish state was problematic.
“It’s unacceptable to us and to the world, and if he continues to adhere to this he will pay a price,” she said.
Livni also said, however, that in advance of Kerry’s plan to present a framework for a two-state solution it was expected that people would make statements with regard to their red lines.
“Now everyone can speak,” the justice minister said, adding that soon, there will be only one question that is relevant: Will they or won’t they support Kerry’s framework proposal? A Palestinian delegation is expected to head to Washington this week to discuss the framework agreement with Kerry. When it is finalized, the framework is expected to lay out parameters for all core issues in the conflict.
In his public address at Davos on Friday, Kerry said everyone knew what the end game for a two-state solution would look like. Security arrangements for Israel would allow for “a full, phased, final withdrawal of the Israeli army,” he said. There would be “a just and agreed solution to the Palestinian refugee problem; an end to the conflict and all claims; and mutual recognition of the nation-state of the Palestinian people and the nation-state of the Jewish people.”
The framework for negotiations that he is working on with Netanyahu and Abbas, Kerry said, would define this end game.
Kerry also said that the Palestinians need to know that the IDF would leave their territory and Israel has to know that the West Bank would not become another Gaza.
“Security is a priority because we understand that Israel has to be strong to make peace, but we also believe that peace will make Israel stronger,” said Kerry as he explained that ensuring this security had been one of the biggest challenges to the process.
A team led by US Gen. John Allen is working with Israel, Jordan and the Palestinians on a high-standard security plan that includes strengthening fences on both sides of the Jordanian border, Kerry said. With state-of-the-art technology and rigorous testing, it can be made safe from conventional and unconventional threats.
The secretary of state cautioned Israel that demographics would make it impossible to maintain the country’s democratic and Jewish nature outside a two-state solution, and that it would not be able to maintain its prosperity in the face of growing isolation and a deteriorating security situation.
“Today’s status quo, my friends, I promise you will not last forever,” Kerry said.
He also warned the Palestinians that failed talks would embolden and empower extremists and hardliners at the expense of moderation. Palestinians would not be granted sovereignty, an improved economy or a resolution of the refugee problem. By contrast, he said, peace could transform the area into an international hub for technology, trade and tourism for the benefit of both Israelis and Palestinians.
Kerry also tried to assuage regional fears that the US had tired of the peace process.
“As our friends and partners take courageous steps forward, they can be assured that President [Barack] Obama and his administration will remain engaged for the long-haul,” he said. “But we will also confront these challenges with the urgency that they deserve. We dare not, and I assure you, we will not miss this moment.”
Kerry met with Netanyahu in Davos on Friday morning, and again both before and after a Shabbat dinner the prime minister and President Shimon Peres had with Jewish participants at the See Hof Hotel. Netanyahu and his staff then walked 30 minutes back to their own hotel so as not to break Shabbat.
The prime minister flew back to Israel Saturday night.
In an interview he gave to Bloomberg while in Davos, Netanyahu spoke of his desire for peace.
“We will have peace because we need peace and we want peace. We have suffered from not having peace,” he said.
But he cautioned that there were three partners in the tango toward peace. He was certain of two of them, Israel and the US.
“Do we have a third? We’ll find out soon,” Netanyahu said.