Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday hinted that he could pursue unilateral moves in the West Bank in the absence of a peace process with the Palestinians.
He spoke in advance of US Secretary of State John Kerry’s expected trip to Israel next week, during which the two men will meet for the second time since earlier this month, when they spoke for three hours in Washington.
The prime minister is under pressure from the United States to come up with a plan to preserve the option of a two-state solution in the absence of a renewed peace process. The US also is looking to him to take steps to ease life for Palestinians in the West Bank, despite the wave of Palestinian attacks against Israelis.
At the Fourth Annual Jerusalem Post Diplomatic Conference in Jerusalem on Wednesday, the paper’s senior correspondent, Herb Keinon, spoke with the prime minister about the stalled diplomatic process and asked point blank, “Are you considering unilateral moves?” “Well, unilateral moves in security and economy are there and we are doing them,” Netanyahu said, adding: “I prefer bilateral. I prefer negotiated moves. But in the aspects of security and the economy there is room for it. Politically, I think it is more complicated than that and not desirable.”
Keinon then asked: “If things stay stymied politically, is there something you will initiate?” to which Netanyahu responded: “Well, there all sorts of unilateral moves in all sorts of directions. Wait and see. And they are not necessarily in the direction you think.”
“Can you be a little bit more specific?” asked Keinon.
“No,” the prime minister responded.
It’s the second time this month Netanyahu has made statements about unilateralism.
He came under fire for comments he made about possible one-sided moves during a public interview at the Center for American Progress in Washington, DC, when former Jerusalem Post editor-in-chief David Makovsky, who is now a fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, asked Netanyahu what his plan is to preserve Israel as a Jewish and democratic state.
Netanyahu responded by stating, “Unilateralism works less well than a negotiated solution. The main problem that we have is the acceptance of the principle that Israel will take care of security in the areas west of the Jordan.”
He later returned to the idea when he said, “Unilateralism, I suppose that is possible, but it would have to meet Israeli security criteria. It would require a broader international understanding than exists now.”
On Wednesday, during his conversation with Keinon, the prime minister spoke of the frustration of not being able to negotiate with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, despite repeated offers to sit down and talk with him.
Netanyahu said that, since he took office in 2009, the two have spoken for less than seven hours.
“It used to be that we were accused of the lack of diplomatic progress. I think that people are waking up to the fact that he will not negotiate,” Netanyahu said.
The prime minister explained that he would start talks without preconditions, but that he would not conclude them without securing Palestinian acceptance of Israel as a Jewish state.
Peace can only be forged through negotiations, he said, particularly given that any resolution would have to allow a continued Israeli military presence in the West Bank.
Israel has learned from Gaza and Lebanon that terrorism moves in when it walks out, he said.
But, he added, even without political progress, it is possible to move forward on security and economic issues.
During his address to the conference, US Ambassador Dan Shapiro said President Barack Obama had stressed to Netanyahu during their meeting last week that Washington remains committed to assisting the sides in “finding durable solutions to the ongoing crisis and restoring security.”
Obama, Shapiro said, focused part of the meeting on “getting back on a path toward a two-states-for-twopeoples” solution.
“We are realistic enough to recognize that a two-state solution will not occur during the remainder of the Obama administration and we may be in an extended period when it is not even possible to conduct negotiations,” he said.
Shapiro warned of the risk of “sliding further toward a binational outcome that will cost Israel its Jewish or its democratic character, and will not deliver Palestinians their dream of independence.”
Leaders who wish to avoid such a future, he said, “must think creatively and proactively about how to prevent that outcome. So we are urging both sides to consider seriously what steps they can take, even in the absence of negotiations, that are consistent with the transition to two states envisioned by previous agreements, and at least provide some momentum in that direction until the next negotiations can take place.”
To that end, he said, acting US Middle East envoy Frank Lowenstein will travel to the region soon to address those issues.
“In our ongoing dialogue with all sides, we continue to discourage unilateral actions that damage and undermine prospects for renewing, and successfully completing, negotiations for a two-state solution,”” he added. “Such actions include Palestinian appeals to the ICC and UN bodies, and Israeli settlement expansion and home demolitions.”