The Palestinians have created a “Catch 22” by refusing to negotiate with Israel and then promoting boycotts and going to international forums against the Jewish state because there are no negotiations, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Monday.
Netanyahu, at the start of a meeting with visiting Czech Foreign Minister Lubomír Zaorálek, said Israel wants to achieve a “durable peace,” but does not want to see a repetition of what happened when it left Gaza and Lebanon with Iranian-supported Hezbollah and Iran moving into the void.
“We cannot afford to have that happen a third time,” he said. “But we don’t want a single unitary state. We want two states for two peoples: a Jewish state, a Jewish nation state – Israel, living in peace with a demilitarized Palestinian state.”
The obstacle to this, he said, is the Palestinian refusal to negotiate.
“They ran away from negotiations. They ran away from [prime minister Ehud] Barak; they ran away from [prime minister Ariel] Sharon; they ran away from [prime minister Ehud] Olmert; they ran away from me,” he said. “It’s a perfect trap.”
While the Palestinians refused to deal with the framework presented by US Secretary of State John Kerry in 2014 and instead ran “to Hamas, which calls for our destruction, and to the UN to get sanctions on Israel,” Israel is being blamed for the stymied diplomatic process, he said.
“There is talk of labeling products on Israel, there’s talk of UN Security Council resolution demands on Israel,” he said. “This will push peace further and further back. Because, why should the Palestinians negotiate when the UN will give them everything without negotiations?” This “cycle” must be stopped, Netanyahu said.
“I think we have to get back to direct negotiations without preconditions. I think it’s important that the international community stop giving the Palestinians a free pass,” he said. “I want you to know that we are committed to a solution of two states for two peoples. We are committed to negotiations. It’s about time the focus was placed on the Palestinians and they should be told: ‘Are you committed to a solution of two states for two peoples? Are you committed to open-ended negotiations, that is, without preconditions? Are you committed to peace?’” In addition to Zaorálek, Netanyahu met on Monday with former French president Nicolas Sarkozy, a likely candidate in France’s 2017 presidential election.
Though no read-out of that meeting was given, Sarkozy – in a warm speech at the Herzliya Interdisciplinary Center Conference – said that while “peace today is not within reach,” it is incumbent upon Israel to take the initiative and try to move something forward on the diplomatic process.
“We in France like Israel when Israel takes initiative, when Israel innovates, is a leader,” he said. “Not when Israel is immobile and paralyzed.”
Sarkozy, who earlier in the day came out unequivocally against boycotting Israel, said Israel’s economic progress is perhaps its “best victory.”
Though a small country, he said, Israel is a huge force in attracting investors from all over the world.
“This is the best answer for those calls for boycotts, which are unacceptable and illegal,” he said. “To boycott a ‘start-up nation’ makes no sense politically, economically, morally or financially.”
Sarkozy also said humanity owes a debt to the Jewish people for their persecution over the centuries, which culminated in the Holocaust.
“The silence of the nations while the crimes were committed is a blemish on the conscience of humanity,” he said. “We all failed and have a debt toward the Jewish people, and it continues to exist.”
The “only way to do something about it,” he said, is to always ensure the security of the Jewish people.
“Mankind has not yet understood that the fate of the Jews is always the forerunner of what will happen to others,” he said.
Sarkozy, in his remarks, was very critical of the nuclear deal being negotiated between the world powers and Iran, saying the European countries were essentially left out of talks, which were largely between Washington and Tehran. He was also very critical of Western policy with Syria and Islamic State, slamming what he said was a lack of leadership.
Sarkozy, who spoke at the conference some 10-years ago just before becoming president, was introduced by Vice Premier and Interior Minister Silvan Shalom, who spoke warmly of him, but less warmly of current European efforts in the Israeli-Palestinian diplomatic process.
“We would like Europe to understand and realize that we are in a very complicated situation,” said Shalom, who added that he often is asked by European colleagues why Europe does not play a bigger role in the Middle East peace process.
“I’ve said more than once that if you want a key role, you should have a more balanced attitude to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, not to accept all their demands – the 1967 borders, a capital in east Jerusalem, maybe the right of return,” he said. Shalom, who has been designated as Israel’s chief negotiator if talks are renewed, called on the Palestinians to return to negotiations without preconditions, and that if they do that they will find in the current government “a real and serious partner to peace.”
He said the moderates in the region need to be embraced and the extremists isolated, and called for “the moderate countries to form a regional conference that will be based on negotiations on peace, security and economy.”
Orange SA CEO Stephane Richard called Shalom last week to apologize for his comments that he would withdraw his company from Israel “tomorrow” if it were possible.
Shalom said he conveyed to Richard the degree to which Israel was “very upset” about his comments, indicating that there was unity on the Left and Right over this issue in Israel and, if that unity remains, the boycott attempts could be defeated.
Richard said through a spokesman on Monday that he will come to Israel “soon” to provide clarifications on the matter.
Netanyahu instructed Israel’s ambassador to Paris the day before not to meet with the CEO, saying that if Richard wanted to clarify the matter he should do it in Israel.