The Palestinians must exorcise the demon of wanting to destroy the Jewish state, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told visiting Italian President Sergio Mattarella when the two met in Jerusalem on Wednesday.
“I [have] turned not only to Hamas but to [Palestinian Authority] President [Mahmoud] Abbas, and I said, ‘Would you recognize a Jewish state, assuming we solve the settlement problem?’” Netanyahu said. “And they won’t, because the real settlement issues are the settlements of Tel Aviv, Jaffa, Haifa, Acre.”
Netanyahu said he understood that Mattarella had met with Abbas just the day before. He assured Mattarella that, like his predecessors, he would support the creation of a demilitarized Palestinian state that recognized Israel as a Jewish state.
The conflict, he said, “was and is about the Jewish state, and unless and until our Palestinian neighbors face this, confront these demons, give up the ghost of trying to destroy the Jewish state by this or that means, peace will be harder to achieve.”
Netanyahu said he sees the Palestinian drive to pass resolutions at the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization as part of its refusal to accept Israel as a Jewish state.
“Denying our history is one of the means of denying the Jewish state,” he said of UNESCO’s Jerusalem resolutions that refer to the Temple Mount solely by its Muslim name of al-Haram al-Sharif.
Netanyahu said that, fortunately, perceptions had shifted in several countries in the Arab world which no longer view Israel as an enemy but as their ally, even a vital ally, in fighting against Islamic terrorism.
This could serve as the basis for peace with the Palestinians, Netanyahu said.
Netanyahu’s remarks came in reference to the fierce opposition of Sunni-led states, such as Saudi Arabia, in the face of Iran and the fundamentalist terrorist group Islamic State.
“A broader rapprochement with the Arab world would bring peace with the Palestinians,” he said.
“Israel’s hand is extended to peace for all those who want to make peace with it,” he added.
Mattarella arrived in Jerusalem after his country abstained from the vote by UNESCO’s 58-member executive board last month on a Jerusalem resolution.
Since then, Italy has pledged to oppose texts that ignore Jews’ ties to the Temple Mount, but Mattarella did not repeat that pledge in his joint press appearance with Netanyahu. Instead, he spoke of the important role Jerusalem played in the three monotheist religions. Speaking in Italian, he said, Jerusalem “is filled with a number of beautiful monuments which are indeed a reference, a symbol, for Christians, Jews and Muslims alike.
Mattarella spoke of the deep bonds between his country and the Jewish state and of Italy’s commitment to Israel’s security.
It is for this reason, he said, that Italy is concerned with the fact that the peace process between Israel and the Palestinians has been frozen for over two years.
“We believe that this may bring about an increase in danger, and it may lead to an expansion of radicalism,” Mattarella said.
“We are firm believers in the two-states-for-two-peoples solution, and we feel that we have to go in that direction with the utmost determination,” he said.
On Tuesday in Bethlehem, during his meeting with Mattarella, Abbas said the key to peace is an Israeli withdrawal to the pre-1967 lines.
According to Palestinian news agency Wafa, Abbas said: “We reiterate here that peace is our strategic goal and is in the interest of all parties.
The key to peace is in ending the Israeli occupation and in lifting the injustice faced by our people, so that the two states, Palestine and Israel, can live in security, stability, peace and good neighborly relations.”